Following CEO meeting Tuesday, Pac-12 cancels fall sports

Ryan Kostecka

The day everyone was dreading has finally come.

Following the Pac-12 CEO meeting on Tuesday afternoon, conference officials decided that there would be no fall sports season for 2020 — there will no athletics of any kind taking place before Jan. 1, 2021.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

The decision to postpone the fall sports season came on the heels of the Big Ten's decision to do the same thing hours before the Pac-12 released its statement.

Depending on the safety of the athletes and the burgeoning trends of the coronavirus over the coming months, the conference said that it will reconsider opening up athletic competitions at the New Year, including the possibility of having a springs football season.

“All of the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors understand the importance of this decision, and the disappointment it will create for our student-athletes, the coaches, support staff and all of our fans,” said Michael H. Schill, president of the University of Oregon. “Ultimately, our decision was guided by science and a deep commitment to the health and welfare of student-athletes. We certainly hope that the Pac-12 will be able to return to competition in the New Year.”

Two weeks ago, the Pac-12 released its new conference-only regular season schedule, stating that everything was on time and that the season was at that time, a go. But what changed was the involvement of medical professionals and the growing concerns regarding myocarditis, a potential longterm effect from contracting COVID-19. 

The American Heart Association describes myocarditis as it "comes on suddenly and often with significant severity, resulting in an exceptionally high risk of death caused by cardiogenic shock (the heart's inability to pump enough blood), fatal arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) and multiorgan failure."

In a recent Sports Illustrated article featuring Dr. Michael Martinez, he describes the effects of myocarditis and the issues at heart, literally.

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"He knows what a strong, healthy heart looks like. He knows what a poor, struggling heart looks like. And he knows what a heart looks like after COVID-19’s tentacles have reached the most vital organ in the human body. “This virus,” he says, “seems to have an affinity for causing damage to the heart.”

In a small percentage of infected patients, COVID-19 leaves behind troubling scars in the throbbing muscle within their chests, known as myocarditis. The virus directly invades the heart muscle, weakening and damaging its cells, through blood clots and inflammatory responses to viral infection. Earlier during the pandemic, doctors only associated the condition with severe and, oftentimes, hospitalized COVID victims, usually elderly patients or those with underlying health problems."

The Pac-12 CEO group, which consists of 12 presidents or chancellors representing each university, is meeting Tuesday night to be briefed about the growing concern regarding myocarditis.

While the Pac-12 is just now being briefed on the matter, the Big Ten is already well aware of myocarditis after diagnosing five of its athletes.

Because COVID-19 is such a new virus and having never been dealt with prior, doctors and other health experts can't predict what the long-term effects are going to be for people who have contracted the virus. It's reasonable to suggest that the long-term effects will be different per person, as the virus has shown to be different per case.

There is research being done that suggests that COVID-19 can cause heart inflammation. According to studies done by the Mayo Clinic, “severe myocarditis weakens your heart so that the rest of your body doesn’t get enough blood. Clots can form in your heart, leading to a stroke or heart attack.”

Utah Utes team doctor David Petron, a member of the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Board, was interviewed on ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City on Monday evening and expressed his concern regarding playing college football this fall.

During the interview, Petron said that a document outlining the possible methods moving forward was presented to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, and will now be shared with the CEO group Tuesday night.

"The recommendation will be stop contact and competitive activities at this time and the document will outline criteria that is needed to move forward with competition," Petron told host Spence Checketts.

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Scott noted that Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee guidelines, along with state and local government orders were followed in a situation that grew increasingly challenging.

“Unlike professional sports, college sports cannot operate in a bubble. Our athletic programs are a part of broader campuses in communities where in many cases the prevalence of COVID-19 is significant,” he said. “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.

“We know that this is a difficult day for our student-athletes, and our hearts go out to them and their families,” added Scott. “We have made clear that all of their scholarships will be guaranteed, and that as a conference we are strongly encouraging the NCAA to grant them an additional year of eligibility.”

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham released a statement following the breaking news...

“We’ve known for some time that this was a possibility, however, it is still disappointing news for our program, our fans and especially for our student-athletes,” Whittingham said. “We respect the guidance of the Pac-12 Medical Advisory Committee and the decision made today by the Pac-12 CEO group, and we will continue to put our focus on our player’s academics and their development. Our No. 1 priority is always the well-being of our players, and their health and safety come first.”

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