The Pac-12 Conference canceled the fall sports season Tuesday due to health concerns from the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision leaves USC and UCLA football fans in the lurch for now, but officials said that when conditions improve, they would consider a return to competition for impacted sports after Jan. 1, 2021, raising the possibility that the football season could be played in the spring.
Student-athletes at all 12 conference schools will continue to have their scholarships guaranteed.
“On March 12, I wrote what I called the hardest message I’ve ever had to deliver in 35+ years as an administrator to our student-athletes, coaches, and staff informing them that winter championships and spring seasons were canceled,” Trojans Athletics Director Mike Bonin said. “Nearly five months to the day, our hearts again ache for our student-athletes, coaches, staff, alumni, and fans with the postponement of all sport competitions through the end of the calendar year. Another incomprehensible consequence of an unprecedented time. We wanted to play, we wanted to coach, and we still hope for the opportunity to do both when conditions improve.
“In listening to our Pac-12 Medical Advisory Committee present the latest data over the past few days, it became abundantly clear that, despite our gargantuan efforts locally and as a conference, there is too much uncertainty to move forward with athletics practices and competitions at this time,” he continued.
UCLA Athletics Director Martin Jarmond said the school “is in complete support of today’s decision by the Pac-12 CEO Group to postpone all sport competitions through the end of the calendar year; no game is worth jeopardizing the health of even one person.
“I am disappointed for all those impacted, especially our student-athletes, but if the past few months have shown us anything, it is just how resilient our young people are. As a conference, we will continue to explore how best to move forward. In the meantime, our focus will be on the continued support of our student-athletes’ academic success, physical and mental health and overall well-being,” Jarmond added.
USC football coach Clay Helton said he was disappointed that his team would not get the chance to compete this year, but he also expressed support for the decision.
“I am very proud of how our football team has conducted themselves and for all the hard work they have put in this year in preparation for a season. … I am confident that we will come out of this a stronger, more resilient football team and look forward to getting the opportunity to compete and showcase all the hard work that has been put in.”
Conference officials said they are strongly encouraging the NCAA to grant students who opt out of competition this academic year an additional year of eligibility.
“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said. “Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.
“Unlike professional sports, college sports cannot operate in a bubble,” he added. “Our athletic programs are a part of broader campuses in communities where in many cases the prevalence of COVID-19 is significant. We will continue to monitor the situation and when conditions change we will be ready to explore all options to play the impacted sports in the new calendar year.”
Tuesday’s vote from the Pac-12 CEO Group was unanimous.
The Big 10 Conference already announced a similar decision, with hopes of rescheduling football games in the spring. The Mountain West Conference, which includes San Diego State, announced Monday that it was postponing its football and other fall sports season indefinitely.
Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, was noncommittal about whether the SEC would continue its season. “I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big-10 and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today,” Sankey tweeted. “… We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19.”
President Donald Trump made his feelings clear at a media briefing Tuesday.
“We want to see college football start. These are young, strong people: They won’t have a hard time,” Trump said. “Hopefully it won’t bother them one bit, most of them will never get it.”