BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 08/13/2020

Thiel: Pac-12 leads in caution; will NFL follow?

Seattle is a football town where one team surrendered to the virus, and the other carries on. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll declined to say who among the colleges right.

Coaches Brian Schottenheimer and Pete Carroll are PPE’d up for the first day of training camp. / Rod Mar, Seattle Seahawks

For those with lives beyond sports, the first day of NFL training camp is an annual calendar benchmark. It tells us that another too-short summer is slowly being taken  away, and that the Seahawks soon would inhale much of Puget Sound’s oxygen for the next five months.

For those of us involved in sports, Wednesday’s ritual was more like an echo. For the first minutes of the initial full-team outdoor practice, the Seahawks seemed to tiptoe upon the immaculate VMAC greensward like nervous rookie burglars. Are we really here? Should we be doing this? Where is everybody?

The berm was void of fans. No buzz, shouts or laughs. Coach Pete Carroll wore a mask, as did other coaches and some players. The bland descriptor of the new contemporary world, weird, was in heavy play. Carroll, however, chose something more neutral.

“It is different,’’ he said after practice. “I miss that already. This is the fun part of coming to camp is that we get to share it with our fans.”

But really, we knew the fan-less restrictions would look like this. We’re already getting used to baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer without spectators. Someday, if we’re lucky, fans will re-enter stadiums and arenas and we’ll complain about how ridiculously noisy it is.

What was truly different in football Wednesday was about eight miles away: The figurative crater at Husky Stadium.

Can’t see it. Sure can feel it.

The decisions Tuesday by the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences to shut down college football in 2020 were sports-epic. Not really a surprise, given the data and the continuing failures of many Americans to do simple tasks, but a shock when it happened.

“Monumental decisions,” said Carroll, who used to own the Pac-12 when he was at USC. “All of us are so accustomed to the institution of college football.

“It set you back. It’s startling to think of it, but these are not normal times in any sense.”

The depth and breadth of the consequences were discussed in a New York Times story Wednesday that suggested the absence of the games will work against President Trump in the Nov. 3 election because some of the seven states in the league are seen as pivotal:

In crucial battleground states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where college football serves as an autumn religion not just on campus but in the rural areas where Mr. Trump’s support runs deepest, losing football may be a political stain that the president is unable to blame on his enemies in the Democratic Party or on the media.

That may seem overdone, but only because you haven’t been to the stadiums in Ann Arbor, Columbus, Madison and Lincoln. From personal experience, I can tell you the community intensity makes Seahawks Sundays seem like backyard mimosas with the new neighbors.

The Huskies have passionate fans whose families go back six generations at Montlake, but the cult-like aspects aren’t nearly as deep as in the South and Midwest. Many purples will miss those six or seven Saturday parties, but since they wouldn’t be allowed in anyway this fall, they will learn to enjoy the savings from not having to buy face-paint remover.

Missing out on the rituals will be vivid for many, another confirmation of federal incompetence. However, the political negative seems like something many schools in Texas and the South, where Trump seems to be running to be the second president of the Confederacy, want to avoid. It’s part of why schools in the other three Power 5 conferences — the SEC, Big 12 and ACC — are, for now, planning to start in September.

If Carroll had to pick a side, he might align with his homies in the Pac-12. But that would throw shade on the judgment of the NFL, which has been the sport least impacted by the virus. While it has wiped out the exhibition games and twisted up training-camp schedules, the first regular season game is still booked for Sept. 10, less than a month away.

And here we were at training camp, where second-year WR John Ursua, previously the only Seattle player during intake to have been a coronavirus victim, was back. False positive, it was said.

More good news: The NFL said Wednesday that of 109,075 tests given so far, 0.48% have been positives. Among 2,840 players, only 53 were positive. No severe illnesses were reported.

So Carroll chose to dance diplomatically.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 “made a choice to take care of people first, so those that have chosen that way, I support them 1,000 percent,” he said. “Those are difficult decisions. And the other conferences that are going for it — they’re really digging in.

“They’re learning from everybody to do it right. We’ll see how well they do. I hope that they can do it and keep people safe.”

One of the “theys” in the Pac-12 is Dr. Jonathan Drezner, a sports medicine specialist who directs UW Medicine’s Center for Sports Cardiology, and is also a team doctor with the Seahawks. He is among the experts offering warnings nationally about a handful of instances in college athletes with COVID-19 of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can lead to serious consequences like heart attacks.

“I haven’t heard a lot about it until the last few days, and I talked to Jon and got schooled up on it a little bit, so I know what’s going on,” Carroll said. “They don’t have enough information to be conclusive yet, but if you listen to John in the last two weeks, they learned something.”

The new information was apparently influential in making unanimous the Pac-12’s vote to postpone any football until after Jan. 1.

The work of Drezner and colleagues locally and nationally over the next month may be critical in deciding whether the NFL digs in like the other conferences, or follows the lead of the Pac-12/Big Ten, thus making Seattle a two-crater town.


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  • Bruce McDermott

    Hey Art–I understand, and in fact agree with, your emphasis on Covid in these recent posts–the issues are both interesting and pivotal for both college and the NFL. But it would be also nice, if comparatively trivial in the societal scheme of things, to hear about the Seahawks purely on a football level. The press conference from which you quote here also included discussion of the team and its prospects, yet the questions from journalists in this area were pattycake softballs.

    For example, it is readily apparent to any Hawks observer that at the current point they are simply trying to fantasize themselves into a pass rush. Mayowa and Irvin at the rush ends, with a now-injured rookie and an overweight rookie (the statuses of both of which were discussed at the conference) backing them up, and with Green and Collier moving inside on pass downs? That may well be the worst pass rushing line in the NFL, and even 6 sacks from Adams will not get it done.

    This, after Carroll repeatedly insisted that perhaps the # 1 priority of the offseason was improving the pass rush? And now Dallas, with a worse cap situation, steps in and snags Everson Griffin, the last really good DE available on the open market besides Clowney?

    What is the plan? Because the disconnect between what the plan appears to be and what the Hawks said it would be is a yawning chasm. And nobody at that conference was sufficiently interested in probing the point. I understand that Pete is really good at relations with the press, but this is really glaring. Let’s get an answer, or at least try to get one, please…

    • 2nd place is 1st loser

      I agree, obviously Covid has been and will continue to be at the tip of the spear for quite some time. But getting back to sports, and only sports will be a refreshing respite from the constant Covid drum beating on every media outlet. It’s been awhile since there’s been any talk of, should I dare say it? Seattle’s MLB team, yes there abysmal, but they are still playing. Food for thought.

      • art thiel

        I understand the COVID fatigue. I also understand we’re in the middle of big stuff that will change many things for many years.

        if you’ve followed me, I’ve writen my share of Mariners-bullpen-is-bad columns. The charm is a bit faded.

        • Husky73

          They are more than bad. Much more.

    • coug73

      COCID#19 will provide a shut down pass rush, it will be devastating. It appears fantasy football is well and stepped up a notch. Hope and fingers crossed will not keep the NFL season alive. I wonder what the betting line is COVID-19 vs an NFL season. Stay safe.

    • James

      The natives are getting restless, Art. You need to adapt, as I tried to point out to you this past week.

      • art thiel

        Your suffering comes through, James. I’m sorry that you can’t look away. Addiction is a powerful thing.

        • James

          Pity, you can’t take constructive criticism.

          • art thiel

            But if took my anger and went home, where would a non-essential reader like you turn for attention?

    • art thiel

      Understood, Bruce. I ask only patience. True story: When the Zoom started, I was in a Verizon store getting my cell phone fixed. I jumped on the call in the middle of the store, couldn’t hear any reporters’ questions, asked the one I most cared about given the historic moments Tuesday — we usually get one question per, two if you hustle — wrote the column and was back at with Wilson today. He doesn’t play defense.

      Now that I’m done whining in a pandemic about my little hassles, I have written down your request in my “ask Pete” list.

      • Bruce McDermott

        So, Art….did this question get moved off the list? Because today you asked Pete about on-line learning, and nothing specific about the team or the DL. Even during the free-for-all period at the end….

  • James

    Here’s an interesting story:

    “Seahawks cut Kemah Siverand after CB caught sneaking visitor into team hotel”

  • 1coolguy

    “Missing out on the rituals will be vivid for many, another confirmation of federal incompetence.”
    Uh, I guess you slept during your civics class Art – The US is a REPUBLIC, where the GOVERNORS and MAYORS run the states and cities. The president has no power to tell them what to do, only to offer support, which this administration has done in spades.
    So channel your misplaced animosity to the governors who have blown it, starting with Cuomo in New York.

    • Bruce McDermott

      Yeah, with “support” like that, who needs real allies? Sheesh. More nonsense culled straight from the Fox echo chamber. It’s funny how Republicans become great fans of federalism in some contexts–like when fumbling to excuse the horrific performance of a supposedly Republican chief executive who has tried in vain to gaslight this virus from the beginning–but shift to a much different attitude when it comes to sending in federal troops and agents against the wishes of those same governors and mayors (who are almost always Democrats, oddly enough), in order to “save” them and their citizens from bugaboos like Antifa. Very flexible “federalism,” to be sure.

      • 1coolguy

        Again Grasshopper, please do at least a minimal amount of 4th grade reading BEFORE you post. Presuming you are writing about the dumb-assed rioters in Portland, yes, Trump sent in the feds because as PRESIDENT, he can send in the feds to defend FEDERAL PROPERTIES, which is what they did with the US COURTHOUSE that was being attacked nightly, including being firebombed.
        Any more ignorant thoughts?

        • Bruce McDermott

          Yup. That’s why he did it. Solely to protect precious federal property. And that’s all the troops did while they were there, of course. Valiantly struggle against a bunch of moms for the cause of protecting federal property.

          Sheesh, Mighty Mouse can sell you anything, can’t he? And speaking of ignorance, he can apparently has also sold you on the conviction that the U.S. problem with Covid is all the governors’ faults!! And the mayors’!! THEY are the reason 15 cases didn’t go down to one, as he assured them and the nation would happen. And THEY are the reason the virus didn’t “magically” disappear, as he predicted to them and the nation repeatedly. The list of his stupidities on the subject is almost endless. Yet some will obediently swallow it all, and beg for more. The sheer mindless, reflexive worship that sort of nonsense requires is truly awe-inspiring.

          • James

            Don’t argue with republicans. You can’t fix stupid.

          • 1coolguy

            Yet another snowflake – sheesh – Seattle really is a mess. I presume you voted for Sawant.

          • 1coolguy

            You are such an illiterate fool you aren’t worth bothering with. Go back to your basement.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Ad hominem arguments are your specialty, since substance-based ones clearly fail you. Yet another attribute you share with the Dear Leader.

        • art thiel

          The unidentified troopers far exceeded even their illegal Trump mandate and were not authorized by the governors or mayors that you found so important in your previous post.

          • 1coolguy

            Illegal??? Sheesh Art – Please turn off CNN and MSNBC and try reading the Wall Street Journal for a start. It is a presidents full authority to defend federal properties, and the federal officers purposely do not have their names on their uniforms because your nice white twenty-somethings have tracked them down to their homes, so no more. Their units are identified with their arm patches.
            Why are you writing such untruthful nonsense? Antifa is real, I have been in their midst, and they are uncontrolled rioters who should be jailed for their actions. They are NOT “peaceful protesters” as your lib media make them out to be.
            So Trump pulled out the feds over a week ago and guess what? The riots have not stopped. I guess you think Portland’ “new normal” is fine. Meantime, Trump has washed his hands on Portland – it’s completely that mayors problem now.

          • Husky73

            Riots in the streets from coast to coast, and 167,000 fellow Americans dead. That is the catastrophe of the Trump Presidency.

    • art thiel

      Well, there was the Defense Production Act. Only the president can use it, and it would have supplied the health-care system with all necessary ventilators and PPE for victims and workers. Then there were border shutdowns that were done poorly for China and too late for travelers from Europe. Then there was the National Security Council task force that created a complete blueprint for action in a pandemic, and Trump disbanded it in 2018 and threw away the manual.

      Maybe this is all news to you. Pity.

      • Seattle Psycho

        Don’t forget Obama did nothing, according to trump, to stop this disease. He did not fund a vaccine for it, he did not have scientists studying it or anything. Forget the fact, as trump always does, that this disease did not exist while Obama was president.

  • woofer

    We are entering an interesting experiment focused on the social and political effects of suddenly diminished escapism. Beyond “missing out on the rituals” big time sports helps serve the important purpose of occupying the idle mind and thus hiding the rips and flaws in the American social fabric. Instead of facing up to the challenges of racism, environmental collapse, sexism, governmental corruption and economic injustice (to name just a few), we can instead zone out with a six pack on the Game of the Week — followed by an evening rivalry special, NFL Sunday, Monday Night Football, and on through the week. But nothing on Tuesday. How did we ever manage to survive Tuesday?

    Of course, big time sports are only one segment of the great American entertainment empire, whose sacred and critical function is to provide escapist opportunities to all elements of the population. But sports entertainment is the segment most dearly beloved of America’s most chronically unhappy cohort — the beleaguered white heterosexual male. So how is going cold turkey on the football fix going to affect an already agitated population? We are about to find out.

    Some will perhaps be able to recognize this as an opportunity to de-hypnotize themselves from constant media addiction to trivia and engage with the issues of the times. But many more are likely to simply grow angrier, more paranoid and more delusional as a favorite and dependable cultural opiate is suddenly removed. It is no secret why football is so much bigger in the midwest and south than the west coast: nothing else to do.

    My wife tells me that bingeing on a Netflix or Amazon Prime mini-series is the real way to go. But that’s clearly not for everybody. How many hours of prancing powdered wigs and fawning butlers in tails can a guy absorb? At some point some computer nerd will figure out how to create a mass participation video sports fantasy with a credible element of actual competition. He will get very rich and marry the movie star of his dreams. And the rest of us can utter a sigh of relief and go back to sleep.

    • art thiel

      I recall Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the people. Is that still true? Or is it sports? Or both? Or Nextflix? How about we turn to constitutional law. That’s not quite as relaxing, but our understanding of it might save the American democracy.

  • jafabian

    I don’t think the NFL will shut down soon but I doubt they’ll complete the season which could be in the Hawks favor when their offensive and defensive lines are works in progress. But it would be the right move to do based on numbers and logic and ignore the pressure from the White House and others to move forward with the season.

    Fact of the matter is not only are NFL games a concentration of large numbers of people their season goes thru the holidays. From October thru December there will be people celebrating as they always do each year during those months. Among those people could and/or be NFL players, coaches and employees. And then they go to Sunday. If even a simple wedding and reception can be mandated to reduce numbers I don’t see how the NFL can be safer. The NFL will want to make some sort of profit however so they might go 4-6 weeks and then drop the rest of the season. I’m sure they’ve seen how the Marlins and Cardinals are dropping and don’t want that to happen to their teams. Better to asterisk 2020 and prepare for 2021.

    • art thiel

      The biggest threat in the fall to the NFL — and all of us — is the annual onset of flu season and the pressure it puts on the health-care system already being crushed by COVID.

      NFL players/staff have shown remarkable discipline in the intake portion so far. Of course that will fade a bit with each passing day. Then the travel begins. No bubble.

  • Ken Snider

    Everyone is making the assumption that a 20 year old is more likely to catch the virus because they are playing football as apposed to just being a student.
    Based on the behavior of many student age people I have observed, I’m not sure that assumption is correct.
    I’m ok with colleges deciding not to have sports, but it is quite possible young people playing sports or not playing sports have the same risk of infection. I haven’t seen any studies on this. Are there any?

    • art thiel

      Your question is not framed right. It’s not 20 yo student vs. 20 yo athlete. All athletes are students too (that’s the theory at enrollment, anyway). The question is whether in addition to online learning, some students are doing extra-cirricular work in a physical activity against others from another school that exposes them to infections because the other school didn’t test them properly.

      That’s the questioned the Pac-12 answered.

      • Mark Stratton

        The only question answered by the Pac-12 is this: Do you listen to the people with medical degrees or law degrees when making these decisions? The answer is obvious.

        • art thiel

          They did both, but only acknowledged the docs.

  • Mark Stratton

    Other than providing cover for the Big 10 I don’t understand why the Pac-12 had to make the decision now. It’s probably a foregone conclusion, but they have another few weeks to dither.

    As to whether the Big-10 cancellation will hurt Trump in swing states; that sounds like wishful conjecture. You need a different hobby. I worry about the long term effects of TDS on your overall health. The next four years could do permanent damage.

    • art thiel

      Nothing about the pandemic’s course or Trump’s behavior is going to change in a couple of weeks. Best to get a start on Plan B.

      Thanks for your concern for my welfare. I think I’ll start feeling better in about 80 days.