Mullens, Cristobal Discuss Postponement Of Fall Sports Competition
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens and head football coach Mario Cristobal had to accept some hard truths this week.
No competition until after Jan. 1, 2021, in any sports. An abbreviated spring schedule now perhaps the best-case scenario for a football season. And an accompanying hit to UO athletics revenue that's dizzying to consider.
Mullens and Cristobal conducted a video conference call with local media to discuss those issues and more Thursday. And though they were hard truths to accept, both demonstrated leadership and resolve, and comfort that however hard the decision to postpone fall sports might have been, it was correct.
"As we said from the beginning, we were going to be guided by our Pac-12 Medical Advisory Group," Mullens said. "We've stuck to that."
The Pac-12 CEO Group, chaired by UO President Michael H. Schill, announced Tuesday that all conference competitions would be postponed through the end of the year. The primary concerns that led to the postponement were threefold: the prevalence of COVID-19 in Pac-12 campus locations, emerging evidence of lingering heart problems stemming from the disease, and questions about the viability of a robust testing program that would be needed to ensure a safe return-to-play environment.
Discussing the postponement with his team— the defending Pac-12 Conference and Rose Bowl champions — was "painful," Cristobal said.
"At the same time," he added, "it was acknowledged that, we stick by what we say and what we do. We're going to do the best and right thing by our student-athletes."
The postponement provided some certainty about the fall, while also presenting more questions about the future. What would a spring football season look like? How might that impact the format of the 2021 football season, assuming it could be played in the fall as usual? Will players who are candidates for the 2021 NFL draft sit out the spring, or participate?
All require more time and consideration before Cristobal has answers. So too will Mullens and the rest of UO administration need some time to figure out the details of tackling an anticipated budgetary hole of $50 to $80 million, depending on if football is played in the spring and what level of revenue that could provide.
"We're exploring all options," the UO athletic director said.
The athletic department won't cut any corners in the services it provides for student-athletes. Though no teams can expect to transition into full practices at this point, they can continue on their current workout programs — 20 hours a week of strength-and-conditioning, film review and walkthroughs for football, as an example, or eight hours a week of skill instruction in basketball.
Mullens said the department won't "on-board" any more student-athletes until late September when classes begin at the university. But any and all Ducks already in Eugene can continue in their current routine; Cristobal said he expects that many of his players will do so, rather than return home until school begins.
"I appreciate the administration going the extra mile and providing the same kind of support and atmosphere and environment for our guys," Cristobal said.
The Ducks' day-to-day routine obviously is different from other years, with protocols in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19. But the staff and student-athletes have embraced those whole-heartedly, protecting themselves and others from contracting the disease.
"Our student-athletes that were here over the summer that we on-boarded did a phenomenal job, and our testing results show that," Mullens said.
Cristobal said of his players, "they all felt extremely safe here. The concern was, we're feeling really good here, (but) how are things outside of here?"
Questions like that led the Pac-12 to postpone fall sports competition. For an Oregon football team coming off a championship season, and showing signs during the offseason of big things to come again, that was a bitter pill to swallow.
"I think this team's gonna be ready for anything that's thrown its way down the line," Cristobal said.
Oregon's head football coach is relentlessly optimistic, and that was no different this week as he met individually with his players to discuss the situation.
"It may seem like a long ways away, but time goes by really quickly," Cristobal said. "And before you know it, you're gonna blink and you'll be playing football again."