Other major programs have had coronavirus-related frustrations: Clemson had at least 23 infections before the season began, and its star quarterback, Heisman Trophy front-runner Trevor Lawrence, missed two games after testing positive. One of those was Clemson’s double-overtime loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 7.
Wisconsin had back-to-back games canceled after the Big Ten Conference started its season in late October. Ohio State saw its Big Ten matchup with Maryland canceled after the latter team suffered an outbreak.
The Pac-12, some may recall, initially partnered with the Big Ten in canceling its fall sports season due to concerns for players’ health. After the Big Ten reversed course, though, the pressure on the Pac-12 to return became enormous.
Football is the engine that drives athletic departments at major universities: Schools couldn’t field teams in most sports without the revenue football generates. Athletic departments across the Pac-12 were projecting losses upwards of $60 million without football filling their coffers with at least television revenue.
The Pac-12 also needed televised games to boost its national profile. With other major conferences playing while the Pac-12 wasn’t, member schools stood to lose top recruits due to the conference’s lack of visibility.
Some may rightfully question the wisdom of playing at all during the pandemic. However, the Pac-12 hesitated to return because it foresaw games being canceled due to COVID-19—and with cancellations now occurring nationwide, not only has the conference lost little, its focus on protecting players may pay off in the long run.