Just one hour after the Big Ten announced the postponement of its fall sports schedule with hopes of playing in the spring, the Pac-12 decided to “pause” its own fall programs until January 1, sources confirmed to Sportico. The conference, which includes Oregon, USC, UCLA and Stanford, will look toward a to-be-determined future date to play, postponing games that would’ve started in late September—football included.
Non-conference basketball games scheduled to be played before the new year have also been postponed, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in an press conference.
Reports first surfaced over the weekend that the Big Ten and Pac-12 were ready to pull the plug on the advice from medical advisors and conference doctors, who warned of the risks of pressing on amid the pandemic. The other three Power 5 conferences—the Big 12, SEC and ACC—continue to press on for now with modified seasons.
Despite widespread pushback against cancellation from players, coaches and even political figures, university presidents at both conferences still moved to pause play for the fall. The Pac-12, in particular, faced the added pressure from its athletes’ #WeAreUnited campaign. Hundreds of the conference’s football players backed the movement, seeking specific assurances to guarantee safe play and asked for 50% of Pac-12 revenue to be paid to athletes. Their health and safety concerns were, however, paramount in their statement.
A medical report given to Pac-12 athletic directors from the conference’s doctors on Monday afternoon, warning of a possible connection between COVID-19 and myocarditis—a heart condition appearing in a small percentage of infected patients that leaves behind scars and inflammation in the muscle—all but sealed the deal, sources said. Myocarditis, a rare condition that can lead to heart arrhythmias and even cardiac arrest, has reportedly been detected in a handful of college football players in recent weeks.
One Pac-12 administrator noted to Sportico that “the latest heart info wasn’t new to anybody” and has always been a risk on schools’ radars.
Sources at two Pac-12 schools told Sportico Monday night that the medical advisors said schools would need to commit to daily testing “at a minimum” to play this fall, a Herculean ask given limited testing availability, turnaround time, and of course, cost. The Pac-12 Presidents then convened late Tuesday morning via teleconference, moving to follow in the Big Ten’s footsteps.
The loss of sports this fall, particularly football, is a huge financial blow for Pac-12 schools. The 10 public schools in the conference (USC and Stanford are private) generated $942 million in revenue across all sports in 2018, selling more than $124 million in football tickets alone. Institutions were already planning to play with limited or no fans in the stands, but the postponement of the season (and it’s still uncertain spring future) now likely means a reduction in television and broadcast rights payouts, at least for this fall. Those same schools brought in more than $318 million in media money, along with $197 million from donations from all sports. Both of those numbers are largely tied to football, which accounts for the majority of each schools’ athletics department revenue annually (upwards of $50 million).
The deficits these schools now face could inch toward the high eight or even nine figures. Preparing for the worst, the Pac-12 reportedly already arranged a centralized loan program to support athletic departments in the event of a fall without football. The program, which could total almost $1 billion, leverages its TV contracts and ownership of the Pac-12 Network for cash up front. The proposal would allow schools’ athletic departments to borrow up to $83 million each in exchange for contracted future media rights revenue at a rate of 3.75% over 10 years.
Whether the loan program will be enough to stave off substantial athletic department cuts is still to be determined. Stanford, a perennial Pac-12 powerhouse, already announced the discontinuation of 11 sports at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, on account of an expected shortfall of $70 million in revenue during the next three fiscal years due to the virus. A previously projected $12 million athletic department structural deficit ballooned to $25 million for this fiscal year alone following the COVID-19 crisis. Cal already has more than $438 million in athletics-related debt, which will only be exasperated by the pandemic and now too the absence of a fall season.