BY Art Thiel 06:33PM 08/11/2020

Thiel: No Pac-12 ball in ’20, new world begins

Wisely ignoring Dabo Swinney and President Trump, Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences pulled out of 2020 football. Now comes the hard part.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said there’s no way to put a bubble around college sports. / Wiki Commons

Years from now, after the pandemic has faded, the economy has wobbled to its feet and college sports are reduced to “Olympic” activities subsidized by the rent paid by professional minor league football and basketball teams to use campus facilities and mascots, Aug. 11, 2020 will be viewed as a watershed day.

The decisions Tuesday to postpone the football seasons by the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences will be known as the day the presidents, doctors and lawyers took back their schools from doofs like Dabo Swinney.

“My preference is let’s get to work and let’s go play,” the Clemson coach and Saban-slayer told local reporters in South Carolina in April. “That’s the best-case scenario, and I think that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t have any doubt . . . I mean, I have zero doubt that we’re going to be playing. The stands are going to be packed and the valley is going to be rocking. Zero doubt. That’s the only thought I have, right there.

“All that rest of the stuff, I don’t think about any of that.”

Fortunately, some educated people are paid to think of “all that rest of the stuff.”

Stuff such as the global spread of a virus that has to date flummoxed mankind and killed a portion of it, and the myriad unknown health and legal consequences of athlete participation to universities while the coronavirus rages largely unchecked in the world’s most backward rich country.

Nor is it possible to quarantine college athletes like the NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLS.

“We cannot bubble our student-athletes like pro sports can,” Scott told the Pac-12 Network. “They’re part of broader campus communities. Student-athletes are living with peer students on campus.”

The views of these people needed to prevail over coaches like Swinney because two months after he said that, a third of the Clemson roster tested positive for COVID-19.

I don’t expect Swinney or any of his peers to be experts in epidemiology. I do expect them to shut up and listen to people smarter than them. Isn’t that kind of the point of being at college?

After the Pac-12 Medical Advisory Board presented overthe weekend a 12-page document to commissioner Larry Scott, chancellors and presidents, they voted 12-0 to accept the recommendations to “stop contact and competitive activities.” The vote wasn’t that close.

The trigger was recent awareness of myocarditis in the hearts of several Big Ten athletes. It’s a rare condition created by viruses that directly invade the heart muscle, weakening and damaging its cells, through blood clots and inflammatory responses to viral infection. It can lead to arrhythmias and heart attacks.

From the document, here’s the assessment summary:

“This virus seems to have an affinity for causing damage to the heart,” Dr. Michael Martinez, medical director of sports cardiology at Atlantic Health System in New Jersey, told Martinez is the league cardiologist for Major League Soccer, the cardiac-specific consultant for the NBA and on the medical committee for the NFL.

Earlier, doctors associated the condition only with severe and, often, hospitalized COVID victims, usually elderly patients or those with underlying health problems. Lately, physicians are identifying the condition in young, healthy Americans.

The concern has “made the bar higher” for returning to fall sports, Dr. Jonathan Drezner, director of the University of Washington Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology, told, “and it could be we don’t get there.”

Football didn’t get there, despite badgering by the quack-in-chief, President Trump, who said in a tweet Monday that postponing college football would be a “tragic mistake.”

He then went on Fox Sports Radio to say,  “You know, people don’t realize, it’s a tiny percentage of people that get sick, and they’re old. It just attacks old people, especially old people with bad heart, diabetes, some kind of a physical problem, a weight problem.”

Hard to believe, but he’s wrong.

A study released his week from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association said more than 97,000 U.S. children were infected in the final two weeks in July.

The death rate is much lower for young people, but that doesn’t change the fact that a single athlete death from COVID-19 would be tragic for the family and a disaster for the university that put him in harm’s way when the contagion was a known threat. Yes, schools have liability insurance, but the last thing colleges need during a time of multi-level existential threats to their existences is high-profile lawsuits exposing their foolishness.

Even among survivors, the long-term consequences are only beginning to be understood.

So the lawyers, who are not mentioned in the document, nevertheless joined the doctors wagging fingers in front of the Pac-12 bosses, saying, nuh-uh.

From the document again:

Even if the Pac-12 did the right thing, the decision disrupts the careers of all the fall sports athletes and blows major financial holes in 12 athletics departments.

There is talk of pursuing loans using as collateral the future TV revenues, but at the moment, it is hard to see what the future revenue picture will be, even if they manage a shortened spring season in 2021.

The other three conferences in the Power 5, the SEC, Big 12 and ACC, are talking of plowing ahead this fall, but the Pac-12/Big Ten decisions make those decisions, especially among players who don’t fancy themselves as lab rats, dubious at best.

No one planned for a lost season. Nor does anyone know whether pandemic conditions will be better in January, or a year from now, given the profound failures of the federal government to bring order from chaos.

What is known is that debts are on the books in the millions from the wave of new facilities built in the decade-long arms race that started with the creation of networks for each of the conferences. Washington State alone is servicing debt of more than $100 million.

“Schools have spent money recklessly for years,” attorney Tim Nevius, a former NCAA investigator who is now an advocate for athletes, told the Washington Post. “Now they’re in a position where if the season doesn’t go forward, they’re on the hook for millions . . . There has just been an extraordinary amount of spending on things that have very little resemblance to a university’s mission to educate and develop people.”

Shoving off from shore on Day 1 of the new college-sports world, the edge of the earth can be seen in the near distance, waves foaming, hissing and crashing.

No time for amateurs. Gotta go pro.


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  • Stephen Pitell

    Spring ball could be the savior after a vaccine is widely available. I look forward to it. Even though a vaccine won’t be a 100% cure, it will be enough to take risks. Eventually, there will be both therapies and routine vaccines keeping up with Covid19 because it will likely be with us for a while, and the long term permanent damage from Covid19 will continue to be a risk factor until we eradicate it with long term vaccines.

    But this decision was a no-brainer.

    • James

      Seriously, you can’t say this decision was a no-brainer, and also say nobody saw this coming.

      • art thiel

        I said the shutdown was coming. What wasn’t foreseen was the pandemic.

        • James

          “What wasn’t foreseen was the pandemic.”

          Well thanks, Captain Obvious. And I wasn’t referring to seeing the pandemic coming, I was referring to the cancellation of the season. Remember this little ditty…

          Imagine there’s no football
          It’s easy if you try
          Imagine no possessions
          And no commercials too
          I wonder if you can
          Nothing to wager or play for
          Imagine Hawks and Niners living life in peace

          • Husky73

            “But nobody wants to know him, they can see that he’s just a fool. But the fool on the hill sees the sun going down, and the eyes in his head see the world spinning ’round. The man of a thousand voices speaking perfectly loud. But nobody ever hears him.”

        • Bruce McDermott

          At some point I saw the shutdown was becoming more and more likely. What I didn’t think through was the longer-term effect that shutdown might have on university sports, budgets, the “amateur”
          fiction, etc. It’s not likely to be a short-term blip on the graph, as Art has been saying now…

          • art thiel

            The college financial model was teetering before the pandemic. Now, it’s 52 card pickup.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think two football seasons in a single calendar year fits with the Pac-12 claim that athlete health is the priority.

    • jafabian

      Agree that the decision was an obvious one but a vaccine might not be any time soon. It took centuries to develop one for Small Pox and Yellow Fever. Scarlet Fever and H1N1 flu still do not have one. Polio had its first major US outbreak in 1916 and the US developed a vaccine in 1955. The US wasn’t polio free until 1979. So contrary to what some have said COVID19 isn’t going to just disappear.

  • James

    “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead”

    • art thiel

      Yet you keep reading. Poor man.

      • James

        I’m an optimist, still waiting for something better.

        • Husky73

          “Man I was mean, but I’m changing my scene and I’m doin’ the best that I can. I have to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time (it can’t get no worse).”

        • art thiel

          Cabinet meeting?

  • Husky73

    Listen….it’s Dandy Don….”The party’s over, it’s time to call it a day. They’ve burst your pretty balloon and taken the moon away….”

    • art thiel

      Do you mean the season or the foul business model?

      • Husky73

        Neither. It’s personal. I went to my first game at Husky Stadium in 1959. Some of the best days of my life were spent there. My run ends at 61 years.

        • James

          OMG, it’s the end of the world. So sorry for your loss.

        • LarryLurex70


  • John

    Wow, I will have Saturdays free to do something else for a while. Maybe it will give me time to find a lawn to mow, in Arizona.

    • art thiel

      How’ Monday through Friday been for you lately?

      • Husky73


      • John

        They’ve been great. I’ve been recording and watching Australian Rules Football when I am off work. All things in perspective really.

        • art thiel

          Let me know when you get to cricket. I’ll call the detox van.

          • John

            I don’t think I will get that desperate. I am going to miss Curling, because I moved to Spokane and there’s no Canadian channels here, which is strangely hypnotic to me.

  • jafabian

    Great to see logic and reason make an appearance in the chaos of COVID19. I questioned if the NCAA would start the season and then end it prematurely after seeing athletes diagnosed with the virus. Probably more liability than science moved the PAC12 in their decision and eventually will influence others. I’m sure the NFL is taking note though they’re even worse in letting the money talk.

    Stanford, UCLA and UW have some of the best medical facilities in the nation. I’m sure there’s those on campus who’d like to see the those recognized for what they do for a change over the football teams this fall. They could be the ones on the clock instead. With Russia putting out an alleged vaccine without any testing POTUS could very well ramp up the pressure to match or better that. He was pushed off the front page after Putin’s and Biden’s announcements and cant be taking that well.

  • woofer

    “…they voted 12-0 to accept the recommendations to “stop contact and competitive activities.” The vote wasn’t that close.”

    12-0 is definitely closer than 13-0. As for Dabo, he’s thinking that the virus will give him a rare opportunity to see what his third string can do under game conditions. He says you never know when you’re going to need them. For the Pac-12 the bright side of canceling the season is, of course, that it saves the league from another year of national embarrassment.

    In the big picture, a guy has to wonder what might be the implications of all this for Darwinian evolution. At some point group decisions to thumb the nose at the pandemic will begin to alter the community gene pool. But it’s a slower process for humans than for a virus. The benefits, alas, may arrive too late to do us any real good.

  • LarryLurex70

    It’s too bad the NCAA hasn’t got balls enough to postpone 2020 Fall sports until Fall 2021. Playing this year’s Fall sports in Spring of next year will ultimately convolute Fall sports NEXT year. How can it not throw the entire calendar out of sorts? Same goes for whatever NBA and NHL are planning for next season. When’s that starting? December?

  • rosetta_stoned

    Good. May the NFL follow suit.
    All sports, for that matter.
    Let them protest on their own dime.

    • James

      Damn right. Sports are nonessential.

    • LarryLurex70

      They should all just shut up and dribble then, right?
      Or, only protest and demonstrate against the issues YOU deem okay.

  • Alan Harrison

    The greater story will not be the deaths or permanent heart issues caused by the virus, which is saying something. Your point about the death of the college football farm system (and basketball, for that matter) has far-reaching consequences. Will they pay the athletes in order to keep some sort of system in place? Or will they blow the whole thing up because it’s been exposed for what it is, a liability-free utopia for NCAA schools? Plus the whole idea of inadmissible “waivers”… if that doesn’t prove the venal nature of college football, I don’t know what does.

  • jimmd

    The conclusions in the report make a spring season sound more realistic. Still sounds like it would be very awkward though.

  • Hockeypuck

    What is it about the bufu states that make them so oblivious to common sense, logic, and science?

    • James

      The bufu states are the deeply religious ones. Such people believe in gods, conspiracy theories, and propaganda. So stupid gravitates there, and intelligent people leave, thereby concentrating ignorance, which is a breeding ground for republicans.

      K.I.S.S. Art