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Roundtable: How well has the Pac-12 handled the coronavirus crisis?

roundtable-pac12-football-basketball-larry-scott-coronavirus-management-leadership-2020 Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images

The Pac-12 announced Thursday it was bringing back football in 2020, playing a 7-game schedule beginning Nov. 6, while also giving the green light for men’s and women’s basketball to begin Nov. 25 in alignment with the NCAA’s new start date.

When the Arizona plays that first football game in November it will mark nearly eight months since any school in the league played any sport. Stopping competition in March at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic was out of the Pac-12’s control, but every action (or inaction) has been of their own doing. And the reviews have been mixed.

Our staff tackled this topic, weighing in on how they though the Pac-12 and commissioner Larry Scott have handled things:

Brian J. Pedersen

Once a follower, always a follower.

That’s basically how the Pac-12 has been during the vast majority of the coronavirus pandemic, taking notable steps in one direction or other only after others—usually the Big Ten—did so first. No bold decisions, no trailblazing, just a lot of following in others’ footsteps.

Other than canceling everything through the rest of 2020, rather than just the fall, though even that wasn’t innovative since the Ivy League had already done so. And it did more harm than good, since there hadn’t been any discussion nationally about basketball’s start being moved out of November, so it wasn’t until today that Pac-12 hoops teams could even think about putting together their schedules.

While I personally thought not playing this fall, at the time, was the right call, and the decision to come back feels more like the result of peer pressure—everyone else is doing it!—as well as a money grab, neither seems like it was done by independent choice. The Pac-12’s moves, outside of deal with Quidel Corporation for rapid antigen tests and testing equipment, have all been of the follow-the-leader variety.

Adam Green

Assuming you read my column on this very topic (and if you didn’t, please do), you’ll know that I’m somewhat conflicted on this question and understand that we may not be able to answer it until the abbreviated season is finished.

On one hand, you should not fault the conference for being cautious. We’re in the midst of a pandemic and while we all want to see Arizona back playing, the safety of the players, coaches and staff that makes the games happen is paramount.

On the other hand, other conferences being able to play right now would give the impression that the Pac-12 may have gone a bit overboard.

The biggest mistake made by the conference may have been the announcement of postponing everything until at least January 1, 2021, because it was an arbitrary date that left no room for adapting to an ever-changing climate. That decision, foolish as it was, led to some teams (including Arizona) seeing talented players leave because they had no interest in waiting for a winter or spring season.

The good news is if even with all that, if the games can happen and COVID-19 stays away then it will be tough to truly criticize the Pac-12’s approach.

As for commissioner Larry Scott, however, that’s an entirely different matter.

Kim Doss

Frankly, I think the CEO Group has been absolutely absurd with its to-and-fro decision making. People can say whatever they want about Larry Scott, but the fact is that the presidents and chancellors made most of these decisions, and they weren’t very well thought out. They also showed very little courage.

If the conference CEOs really cared about the “health and welfare” of their student-athletes and the communities in which their schools operate, I think the entire fall semester would have been handled very differently. From Arizona bringing back off-campus students without testing them, forcing our local resources to be spent on doing that job, to Colorado doing such a poor job that Boulder County had to shut down all gatherings of college-aged people, this is a failure of those at the top of the decision-making pyramid at the 12 universities.

I don’t think this is about a change in testing, either. I think the about-face on fall football was made because the Big Ten didn’t have the guts to stick with the stand they took, and the Pac-12 followed behind like a lost puppy. It’s time for the league to get rid of this idea that whatever the Big Ten does, the Pac-12 must do, as well. If it was right to postpone to protect the health and welfare of the student-athletes before the Big Ten caved, it was still right to do after.

Why is it safe to play football, but not safe to play soccer? The answer is money. That’s why thousands of students were brought back to college towns around the country, and that’s why we will have football in 2020 but not soccer or volleyball.

As for the decision about basketball, why the league postponed that until after January is still unclear. There was no reason to make that decision so quickly. It just didn’t need to be announced in early August. Will there be a huge difference in COVID-19 cases over the five weeks between Nov. 25 and Jan. 1? I tend to doubt it. But if the CEOs really believed it was right, I don’t think things have changed. Their indecision is troubling.

The lack of direction and leadership by the people who lead our universities is very upsetting. I think all of the high-minded talk about student-athlete welfare was hollow. It’s hard to think anything else when there’s so little logic to the premature decisions and quick about-faces that have been applied to some sports, but not others.

Brandon Combs

Well, Larry Scott is awful. That’s a given. To me, though, I think they handled it like crap.

What was the point of releasing a schedule, touting it’s flexibility and whatnot, only to preemptively cancel the fall season a week later? The answer is there wasn’t a point.

Like Brian mentioned above, the Pac has taken a “let’s see what everyone else is doing”-type of approach to things under Larry Scott’s “leadership.” And the pandemic has been no exception. Thankfully, mercifully, it appears Larry’s days are numbered as commish.

I find it unacceptable that the leaders had created a schedule, and a good one at that, only to fall in-step with the B1G, which is run by another incompetent commissioner. Then, when the B1G sat back and said “I, uh, think we were a bit too hasty,” the Pac did the same thing.

Then you have the fiasco between the governments of California and Oregon, and the lack of communication with the conference and county governments. An absolute “dee-duh-dee” moment. Why wasn’t that communication happening the whole time? One guess....that’s right! He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. At this point, I feel like Larry Scott has become Voldemort to Pac-12 fans and writers everywhere. Or maybe even Emperor Palpatine, though he was extremely competent. Voldemort couldn’t even take over a high school with an army of evil wizards/witches, trolls, giant spiders, and the most powerful wand ever created. Anyway....

Besides voting to actually have fall sports seasons, or some seasons rather, I feel the only other thing that the Pac-12 “leaders” got right was the rapid testing deal with the Quidel Corporation.

Ronnie Stoffle

Oh man. What a time to be alive, huh? The conference’s “leader”, Larry Scott, has been in a very bad spot from day one with this because of the financial pressure that not playing football creates for 11 of the 12 universities in the conference.

I say 11 of 12 because Stanford will continue to thrive without football due to their endowment which is approximately the size of Iceland’s GDP. For perspective of how that compares to other’s in the conference, the Cardinal have an endowment (~$28B) almost 5x that of the next closest, USC (~$6B). But I digress...

I understand the financial piece to this equation and this is the same position our country’s government has taken during the pandemic. It basically translates to “health and safety is important but not as important as the economy.”

There’s no debating that Larry Scott looks like a fool right now. Frankly, this is par for the course of his tenure, though. Adam Green wrote an excellent article this week about this very topic and referenced plenty of examples of head-scratching decisions from Scott over the years.

However, it is hard to blame him for allowing the season to start. For one, with the rest of the Power-Five schools in action, the Pac-12 really can’t be the only P5 conference sitting out. It remains to be seen what type of product this will lead to come early November but it might be safe to assume it’ll be mediocre at best.

Should Scott care about a lousy deliverable? At this point, probably not because it’s clearly just a cash grab in an effort to stop the bleeding from money lost to no NCAA Tournament and five less football games.

Scott’s message from day one should have been, “we will not start the season in late September but we will re-evaluate the situation at that time for a possible start in late October or early November.” This would have allowed teams to continue to prepare for the possibility of a return to the field, a la the Big 10.

In answer to the question, the Pac-12 has absolutely mishandled the conoravirus crisis. But no one should be surprised because this is a Larry-Scott-ran organization.