In a media webinar Thursday afternoon, Washington State Athletic Director Pat Chun spoke to reporters about the postponement of sports in the Pac-12 Conference through Jan. 1, how it would impact the Cougars’ athletic department financially and if a spring football season is feasible.
“As we all know on Tuesday the Pac-12 CEOs made a decision rooted in health and safety to postpone the 2020 fall season. CEOs, coaches, athletic directors were all in line to make this decision. I met with our student-athletes and coaches Tuesday afternoon. As you’d imagine, it was a somber meeting. All of our fall teams have a goal of winning Pac-12 championships, going deep in the postseason and even winning national championships, so it’s a special group of young people and to have to tell him we had to hit pause on their athletic goals and dreams and aspirations is a tough meeting that unfortunately I’m all too familiar after doing that in the spring as well. We asked our teams to work together on what they wanted the next few weeks to look like, because as many of you know, we actually don’t start school until the last week of August. We’re going to start working as a conference to define what the fall could look like and next steps. Really, the ask from our student-athletes was really focus on mental health, being a good teammate and academics whenever school starts. Then we’ll try to define what the next few weeks look like. Now we’ll go forward, this is post-apocalypse for any athletic department. The full scope of our revenue losses won’t be clear for some time, but we do know they’ll be significant.”
Have there been any furloughs, staff reductions in the athletic department?
“So, when we announced as a league we were going conference-only, that eliminated two home football games. I guess it was the beginning of August, or a couple weeks ago, we announced furloughs and salary reductions within the athletic program. So, that’s a step and obviously we need to continue to plan as we try to forecast the full extent of our revenue losses. But yeah, that has been enacted as of a couple weeks ago.”
Can you say how many staff reductions/furloughs have taken place?
“I don’t have an exact number. What we asked was two-week furloughs for our non-contract employees and then for our contact employees, really a 5% or voluntary 5% salary reduction at that time. But like I said, with Tuesday’s decision now we’ll have to design what next steps look like for this athletic department.”
What’s the dollar figure on what Washington State is projecting to lose and where do you try to make some of that up?
“Well, that’s what I said, the full scope of what our revenue losses look like, we won’t know, because as a league we made a decision to investigate spring. It’s hard to forecast right now. We know what the losses in terms of ticket revenue could be. We’ve gone on a campaign to ask our season ticket-holders to either donate or pay forward their ticket purchases for this past year. So I don’t have those exact numbers at this point. I can’t forecast it today because it’s just too early, but we know they will be significant.”
In a recent press conference, you said you feel confident in teams preparing for fall sports. At what point did that change?
“Well, our league has done a really extraordinary job in creating communication lines and like anything, this thing seems to evolve and take twists and turns really on a daily basis. I was always buffered in the fact our student-athletes and coaches, medical staff, training staff, strength training staff, had really done an exceptional job of building an environment of health and safety here in Pullman. I think we’re at 0.9%, so we’re at less than 1% in positive tests with all our student-athletes here in Pullman. Really, as we got closer to the next phase of our planning, which meant contact – we are a league that leans on our medical advisory committee. As some more information came forward, well one you look at what’s going on in California and Arizona relative to hot spots. The rise of cases and then also trying to get a better understanding, really if anything more uncertainty with the potential cardiac issues associated with COVID-19 and potential respiratory issues. So, with so much uncertainty I think it’s what we’d talked about on Tuesday, with the health and safety always being the number one priority, with everything we did with out student-athletes, coaches and staff, we just could not get to a comfort level moving forward.”
What is the next step for the department schedule-wise for the spring?
“We’ll work with the conference, we’ll get to the drawing board. Unfortunately we’re here and we always knew if we got to this place, we did not spend a lot of time planning because we knew if we were here, we would have time to plan. So, we’re here now, we have a good structure in place, a good process in place. I give a lot of credit to all of our sport working groups in the league. We’ll start to design what this thing could look like and obviously the health and safety piece will override anything we do or don’t do.”
There’s been a lot of discussion about the presentation the Pac-12 got from the medical board, specifically related to myocarditis. What was your reaction to that presentation?
“For me personally, our chief medical officer, Dr. Sunday Henry, she had been communicating very clearly with me the potential ramifications associated with myocarditis post-COVID and really the presentations we saw just really reaffirmed it and contextualized it too, with some case studies. I think there was a former high school football player in Puyallup, there was a former Florida State basketball player that passed away overseas, think there was a football player in the Big Ten whose mother posted some stuff. So, if anything, that contextualized it probably even more, but for me personally, just with the level of communication with our medical staff here, that was a real concern and like I said, I tell everyone nothing really changed other than our calendar knowing we were one of the schools that was trying to go into the next phase next week, which meant close contact, actual contact for that matter, and that’s where we decided we couldn’t get ourselves into a comfortable place as a league to go forward and from a health and safety standpoint.”
What do you think about other leagues knowing this information and moving forward with the fall season?
“Well, every league’s going to have to make a decision on their own. We made a decision we believe was the best for our student-athletes. I know there are some regionality issues with COVID, with how local government officials, state government officials deal with COVID. but every league’s going to have to do what’s best for their student-athletes, so I know what we saw and I know how we reacted to it and where we sit today, I think across the board we remain aligned. That was a tough decision, really more just because of the empathy we have for our student-athletes knowing how much they put into this. But it was the right decision for the Pac-12.”
Do you think testing procedures will need to improve before the Pac-12 feels confident playing sports in the spring?
“Yeah, that is actually one of the key pieces from our medical advisory committee, was point of care testing, rapid result testing and daily testing. There is a thought that by the end of November, sometime in December, that should be hopefully readily available. So that also weighed into our decision, but our medical advisor made it clear that point of care or rapid response testing on a daily basis really is more impactful than anything else, because this way on a daily basis we’ll be able to identify if someone has the COVID-19 virus and allows us to contact trace right away and mitigate right away. But that is a key piece to it is being able to get to a place with daily testing.”
Why do you think a spring football season would be feasible and what are the hurdles that could prevent it from happening?
“Well, I don’t know if it’s feasible, but I know we’re going to do our best to see if we can make it feasible. I think we owe it to our student-athletes to see if there’s an option out there that make sense relative to 12 months of football, so there are a lot of variables that will go into this that we’ll either be able to come up with a model that is conducive for our student-athletes, or it’s not. Right now, I think we owe it to our teams and we owe it to ourselves just to be able to put together a model that maybe works and if we don’t, we don’t. I think we proved it as a league this week that we’ll make a tough decision based on health and safety. if we can’t get there as a league, not just with football but with any of our sports, we’ll make the same decision again rooted in health and safety.”
Do you expect players to want to take time off, or do you expect to proceed with the current schedule until further notice?
“Well, everything’s voluntary at this point. I know the legislation and governments will allow up to 20 hours now in countable hours, but what we did ask is let’s just hit the pause button, just because Tuesday was so emotional. And really, we want to try to create something specific really to each student-athlete and each team, so it’s really up to our student-athletes. We’re going to leave our weight rooms open. Obviously, we had protocols in place and ready, which makes that easier to keep things open, but we really want to do what’s best for them. Without having a season, it’s really up to our teams and student-athletes specifically on what they want. I know we have some student-athletes who want to go home. They’re probably already on their way right now and like I said, right now this mental health piece is the piece we’re most concerned about and we just want to make sure wherever they’re at, it’s a decision that’s right for them and they feel supported with.”
The aspect that included all the way into January goes into your winter sports season. Is this something that maybe surprised you?
“That was something our CEO group added, which you understood their logic with when it was added to it. But no, that was not something we’d discussed before, but supported 100%.”
A lot of other schools outside your conference are affected by that. Do you expect other conferences to follow suit in delaying nonconference until the winter?
“Well, I think we’ve all learned there’s no pattern in how conferences react and how they move forward. Every one is basically an independent group making decisions based on information they have and whatever governing structure they have. So, we made the decision what we believe is best for our student-athletes and our league, and we’ll see what the rest of the country does.”
If other conferences are able to get in some football this fall, what would do (to college football) if half the leagues are trying to play now and half the leagues are trying to play later?
“Well, we’ll find out. I think everyone who covers college athletics knows these last couple weeks, since Sunday, monumental decisions have been made every single day it seems like. So I think no matter what, even if we were still in pause mode, I think there are a bunch of other Division I athletic conferences that postponed or cancelled today. So, we’re still a long way away, but I know our industry, historically has erred on the side of health and safety for our student-athletes.”
Do you have any sort of status update in terms of your non-conference basketball games?
“Not yet, because I think we’re going to let the dust settle a bit as well. Because this thing is so fluid, college athletics is so fluid right now that there’s really no certainties. We know when we’re not going to start basketball, but I can’t definitively tell you when we’re going to start basketball, other than we have a date in which we’re allowed to start basketball. And everything’s going to be really hinged on where we’re at in terms of managing COVID and availability of testing. So there’s a lot of variables in place, but as of today because of all the uncertainty in college athletics, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what will happen with our non-conference.”
Are your freshmen athletes going to be allowed to live in dorms even though other students aren’t allowed to live in those dorms right now?
“Well, there are other students living in dorms. I think it’s a small cohort, but our university understands there’s a cohort of students that this is ultimately their home. Washington State’s like a lot of universities. We have a lot of international students, we have a lot of students that go to college and stay here, so I know there are a small number of dorms that will remain open at Washington State, have remained open at Washington State and will continue to remain open.”
Was the general testing procedure and variation from school to school a point of discussion in Pac-12 meetings this week?
“Well, I wouldn’t say there’s an inconsistency. I think we all know Whitman County is very different than LA County, which is very different than Pima County in Arizona. So, I think we all have different local and state restrictions, because as you know our league has a footprint across many states. The standards, or the standard, the Pac-12 put out were way above what even the NCAA had put out. But if there were subtle differences, it was because of whatever the local restrictions or parameters that were in place that we all have to adhere to.”
Do you anticipate fall sport athletes might express a desire to transfer to other conferences that are moving forward with competition?
“Umm, it’s their right if they choose to, we’ll support our student-athletes in any direction they feel that’s best for them. But there’s a reality, too, that a lot of the rosters are set. So I don’t know how practical that is right now, but if there’s an opportunity for a student-athlete that they feel is best for them, yeah we’d absolutely support it.”
Have you spoken to Nick Rolovich individually since the decision was made on Tuesday, and what was that conversation like?
“All of our coaches, our fall coaches specifically including Nick, I mean they understand. Since day one, Washington State and Pac-12, the health and safety of our student-athletes particularly around COVID was something we were never going to waver on. So, all of our coaches were aligned with that, we weren’t going to take any shortcuts with this, we were going to take this seriously. I think all the protocols we put in place, I mean it’s incredible to see the effort of our student-athletes and our coaches and how they adhered to everything and adjusted to everything. We have it our best shot and we were one of the schools, we did put ourselves in a position that, if we could get to the next phase, we were ready to go. But we just couldn’t get ourselves as a league in a comfortable place about all the potential risks in terms of going to the next phase. But I think everyone has been in the full spectrum of emotions this week. It’s heartbreaking, it’s disappointing, you’re still in shock a bit because of the magnitude of the decision. So, there’s a whole bunch of pieces that go into this.”
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