All along, through months of looming uncertainty and doubt, athletic director Mike Bohn remained outwardly optimistic that college sports would find a way to continue. On USC’s campus, comprehensive safety protocols were working. The athletic department had tested 666 athletes for COVID-19 and turned up eight positives, all of which were quickly isolated. Athletes, by and large, said they felt safe on campus.
But by Tuesday, as a sobering picture of potential, lasting cardiac issues from the coronavirus was painted for conference officials, Bohn and the rest of the Pac-12 was convinced that the uncertainty caused by an ongoing pandemic was too great to go forward.
A vote of Pac-12 presidents and chancellors was unanimous. College sports would be canceled until 2021. Just before the Pac-12 made its announcement, Bohn sent out a video message alerting athletes to what was coming. It was the second time since his arrival last year that he had to deliver such news.
In a statement, Bohn called the decision “another incomprehensible consequence of an unprecedented time.”
“In listening to our Pac-12 medical advisory committee present the latest data over the past few days, it became abundantly clear that, despite our gargantuan efforts locally and as a conference, there is too much uncertainty to move forward with athletics practices and competitions at this time,” Bohn said.
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) August 11, 2020
The clarity among college administrators didn’t make the bitter pill of a canceled football season any easier to swallow for players or coaches. Clay Helton and his rebuilt coaching staff will have to wait until at least the spring to prove their offseason was as program-altering as he and Bohn have suggested.
Helton called the cancellation “extremely disappointing,” but offered his support for the decision.
He’ll still be the head coach whenever USC continues playing football in 2021. But Helton may be without several key contributors who could elect to skip a potential spring season.
Wideout Amon-ra St. Brown, safety Talanoa Hufanga, offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker and defensive tackle Jay Tufele are all candidates to opt out of a spring season, in anticipation of entering the NFL draft. All four are expected to be selected in the top three rounds of the upcoming draft, which is currently slated for late April. Whether the date might still be moved back to accommodate college football remains to be seen.
Last week, Vera-Tucker told The Times that if the season was ultimately postponed, “obviously, that’s a conversation I’m going to have to have with my family and my coaches.”
USC players took to social media to express their disbelief, tweeting broken heart emojis and wondering aloud what would happen now. Hunter Echols demanded that seniors’ eligibility be protected. Defensive end Connor Murphy mused about walking on elsewhere. Cornerback Greg Johnson wondered in a tweet if the XFL might step up in the void as an NFL minor league.
While a mass exodus of transfers out of the Pac-12 is not currently expected, there are plenty of questions about who will still be welcome on campus and when. The NCAA has yet to offer any answers on eligibility; in fact, it delayed making any decision on the matter until Aug. 21. Clarity is also expected then on what a postponed season could mean for several recruits, including two four-star quarterbacks at USC, who plan to early enroll.
For now, athletes already on campus can remain under USC’s care. They’ll continue to take part in voluntary workouts, following the protocols USC put into place, with no clue what the future holds.