Just two days after Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey announced he was opening the way to pro sports resuming in the state come Saturday, the University of Arizona was there Thursday trying to nudge its foot in the doorway.
With the ink still wet on its plan, UA athletic director Dave Heeke and head football coach Kevin Sumlin were talking up in virtual media sessions the department’s re-entry task force and the hopes for taking a running start to an on-time beginning of the 2020 football season.
Some 2,963 miles away here in Hawaii, it makes for compelling and cautions viewing. This as the University of Hawaii crosses its fingers that, safely and sanely, somehow there will be a game in Arizona Stadium Aug. 29 and the Rainbow Warriors will be there for the scheduled season opener. With or without Wildcat fans in the broiling stands.
As we should know by now, of course, things can change in a quick snap count, depending on the course of COVID-19 in any given moment and location.
Proof of that is that just 22 days ago UA President Robert C. Robbins told a Tucson radio station, “I’m really concerned about whether we’re going to be playing football in the fall.” Robbins added, “My sense, right now, I just don’t see that happening.”
Since then, among western states Arizona has been one of the quickest to attempt to restart its economy, having recently permitted the reopening of gyms, pools and salons that were previously considered non-essential entities.
While there was much talk about doing what is best for the athletes, coaches, staff and fans, the other bottom line was acknowledged.
“We’re focused on trying to preserve a complete season of football — or as many games as possible. That’s critical to the overall economic health of not only (UA), but all of the college athletics at the Power Five level,” Heeke said.
You get the feeling that much of the Pac-12 membership is beginning to feel the peer pressure for an on-time start to its seasons. Especially as its well-heeled Power Five rivals, the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference in the forefront, proceed full speed ahead with their plans and no intention of looking back for stragglers. No matter how prudent or well-advised the caution might be.
“Healthy football, healthy basketball is really important for all of our programs,” Heeke said. “Otherwise, it becomes very difficult to manage the expenses that surround the individual programs that we have across the board. And that’s something that every campus will face, every athletic director and president will face if we lose a college football season.”
Pac-12 coaches, among others, have said they probably need a minimum of six weeks of training camp in order to have players physically ready and able to begin the season.
In Arizona, Heeke said, “We feel like we can look at June as an opportunity. The next month and couple of weeks are going to open a lot of things up. As we see Major League Baseball, as we see other states roll out their plans, we’ll see how it works here in Arizona. That will provide us some insight and some opportunity to look at, how we can latch on to that, how successful it’s been or some of the concerns.”
For UH, it might also say a lot about when its season opens.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 529-4820.