September 24, 2020
Dear University of Oregon community,
I am writing with what I hope is some good news during these challenging times. Earlier today, I and the other presidents of the Pac-12 universities voted to resume some collegiate athletic programs — specifically football, men’s and women’s basketball, and other winter sports. Practice can commence immediately, and the seasons will get started in November. Fans will not be permitted at games initially, but the conference will revisit that issue in early 2021.
I and the other presidents have insisted throughout the process that the health and safety of our student-athletes must be our top priority. That was the primary reason we voted unanimously to pause the season earlier this summer. At that time, our medical experts expressed a good deal of doubt about whether we could sufficiently protect student-athletes from both the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19. In the ensuing weeks, however, the conference has bolstered its testing capabilities so that all conference members can institute daily testing of student-athletes, paid for and provided by the Pac-12. That enhanced ability to test has shifted the balance and led medical experts to advise us that our programs can move forward with practice and competition consistent with our commitment to health and safety.
In addition, we have recently received new information from state officials in Oregon and California that opened the door for a return to competition under strict health and safety guidelines. I am grateful to Gov. Kate Brown, the Oregon Health Authority, and Lane County Public Health for looking closely at the issue, examining the rigorous health and safety plans that have been put in place, and clearing the way for the University of Oregon and Oregon State University to resume some collegiate sports.
Even though we will not be able to cheer the Ducks in person at Autzen Stadium or Matthew Knight Arena — at least for now — I am excited about what the resumption of athletics means for the Pac-12 and the University of Oregon. It’s certainly not about money; all of the Pac-12 programs, including Oregon, will still face multi-million-dollar shortfalls under this resumption plan. No, it is about something bigger — hope. As we all face the challenges posed by COVID-19, continue to wrestle with the scourge of systemic racism in our society, and face an incredibly polarized national election, I believe sport can help unite our community, be a boost in morale, and give us something to cheer for during some pretty dark days. Our student-athletes are begging us to let them play, our fans miss the excitement of game day, and this resumption plan is at least a small step toward a return to normalcy.
Over the last week, I have consulted with our shared governance partners as well as a broad set of UO faculty members, staff, and students. I would like to thank them for their advice and counsel on this issue. It certainly helped shape my views on this decision.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law