The Pac-12 Was Right to Wait

Ryan Robertson Editorials 24 Comments

It has been a long off-season. Basketball ended early due to the pandemic, as did all other sports. The recent restart of professional sports showed that limited crowds don’t have to stop sports.

Last weekend college football restarted in a limited capacity, with small crowds and every team missing players. The games were alright, but without any major teams in action, the weekend lacked a headliner to look forward to. With SMU beating Texas State by only one score, there was even a little drama.

But something was missing. Something was wrong with the weekend that didn’t involve the visuals, the quality of play or even the fact that out of eight games, only one of them felt close.

What Was Missing?

Kevin Cline

College football is all about atmosphere.

It was the fourth quarter of the SMU-TSU game with about 1:00 remaining on the clock. Texas State had the ball in SMU territory, down 31-21. They needed a score, an onside kick and another score to win or tie the game. The Bobcats were three touchdown underdogs heading into the game and they had a chance to win late.

So, what was the problem?

There was no energy in the stadium. Texas State fought to get to that point, forcing a far more talented team to turn the ball over repeatedly and struggle to find a rhythm on offense. The stadium should have been rocking. But it wasn’t. The Bobcats’ home stadium was nearly silent during a quest for an upset to start a season.

The obvious fact is that 1/4 of the stadium’s capacity cannot generate the noise of a full stadium. Some might argue that TSU isn’t all that popular in college football, so that’s why there was no excitement as they drove inside the SMU 20 yard line, but I know better.

Bobcat Stadium has a maximum capacity of 30,008, which isn’t a ton, but is a number perfectly capable of generating noise. The maximum number of people allowed at the game Saturday was 7,502. That is fewer people than most high school football stadiums in Texas.

During the second quarter when Jeremiah Haydel made an early catch of the year candidate to tie the game, there was almost no sound emanating from the stadium. That catch and score should have sent the stadium in to a frenzy, but there was only a smattering of applause and a couple cheers heard in the broadcast.

How Does a Lack of Fans Hurt College Football?

Matt Zlaket

Stanford has been preparing for a lack of fans for a while now.

The NBA had an incredible restart. With their “bubble” resulting in a grand total of ZERO COVID-19 cases since the restart in July, the NBA has shown that with a limited number of players, a lockdown can be successful.

The MLB has had a largely successful restart with only a handful of cases. This is especially impressive given the number of MLB players and the amount of travel occurring.

The NHL, like the NBA, has had a massive success without much talk of COVID-19, and a tremendous product on the ice.

So why can’t college football just copy the professional leagues restarts? Well, first there is the human element. The University of Alabama has had over 2,000 positive COVID-19 tests since allowing students on campus. The fact of the matter is that college kids are young and irresponsible. They lack the professionalism and understanding of consequences of professional athletes, who know that if they mess up, their careers could be over.

That is not to say that college football players won’t take the situation seriously, but students on campus won’t. And if a student in a dorm gets the virus, so do others in the dorm.

The second reason colleges cannot copy the other leagues is because of the venues. The MLB has no problem playing with no fans because, quite simply, the MLB already cannot fill their stadiums. The NBA is a league that feeds on its fans, and they have the ability to effectively pump crowd noise in to their arenas to simulate large crowds. Football stadiums are far too large to do the same in any meaningful way.

Unfortunately, college football needs fans in the stadiums. The sport depends on the excitement of people at the games, not just of people on their couches.

What Should the Pac-12 Do?

Amazing Moments Photography

Autzen isn’t the same when it is empty.

The Pac-12 is in a tough spot. Currently the only Power 5 conference without any real plans to start the season is the Pac-12. The Pac has just recently improved its ability to test players for the virus, sparking hope of a season during the late fall.

But the conference should wait. As someone who is crazy about sports, and more specifically Oregon sports, the conference should wait until fans can fill Autzen Stadium to the brim to play, because anything less than a perfect game day isn’t worth the point of “at least football is on” that so many of us were hoping would save the fall.

It has been over a year since the Ducks kicked off 2019 against Auburn in Arlington, Texas, and it has been nine long months since they ended their storybook season with a Rose Bowl victory against Wisconsin. Let’s wait a little longer, because 13,500 people in Autzen would be a travesty.

Ryan Robertson
Yuma, Arizona
Top Photo by Kevin Cline

Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.

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Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

The Case for Long-Term Risk to Young Athletes, and Liabilities to Pac-12 Schools:

A 22 year old female college 800 meter runner (from Eugene) had her senior season lost this last spring due to COVID cancellations of all sports. However she contracted COVID-19 on a camping trip, and she has long-term health issues impacting her as she cannot work or even walk across the room without losing her breath.

The story about her in the Eugene Register-Guard is a reminder that many of the college athletes are vulnerable, even if they are the toughest competitors in the prime of youth. She dealt with pneumonia in July and still deals with chest pain, fatigue and shortness of breath.

She is also waiting on tests to see if further damage has taken place in her heart, rib cage and lungs.

If she had contracted COVID while at college….don’t you think she would lawyer-up? All it takes is one case to wipe out an athletic budget, and I would feel terrible if a football player had this happen to him because I wanted to see Oregon football.

I can wait a four more months for a vaccine and daily testing for the benefit of all.

Agree waiting for an effective vaccine is the sagacious move, all passions aside.

I think probably all Ducks fans are aware of this but Penei has officially opted out of the ‘2020’ season. Coach Cris is ‘back home ‘ in Miami helping to care for his 80 year old Mom.

Good article by Dennis Dodd on the CBS college site about how disappointing this has been for Mario. Mario opined that he believed this team would be superior to last season’s team. He also noted that he believed this team could have gone toe to toe with Ohio State.



The definition of BUMMER! Again Mario connects with fans more than any Oregon coach I can think of. I didn’t have any doubt that this team would be better than was 2019, and yes, after all the games where the Ducks came up short, I too believed that the Ducks had the Buckeyes’ number this time. Agggghhh!!!!


…….a vaccine and daily testing for the benefit of all. A game changer.


The real vaccine cannot come soon enough.

Charles, that story is the one reason you are rolling a 20 sided dice with the virus. Many of the pro players – NHL, NBA, MLB – that have tested positive, were either symptom free or minimal symptoms. It is the same with many of the people testing positive here up in WInterland, but you are STILL taking a chance. No matter how small.

On the flip side, I still hope they (the Pac) finds a way to play.


Steven A

Ryan, ,sorry so late to the party… I don’t think the conference had much choice. Yes, they could have waited and probably should have, but would they have been allowed to continue to practice if some of the states in the conference footprint don’t allow the games?
Also, it would have been nice of the conference had a standard protocol for reporting athletes testing results, not names, just numbers.

David Marsh

When it comes to noise you can hear Oregon fans take over opponent’s sparsely populated stadiums. Last year against Stanford you would have thought Oregon was playing at home… Quieter than Autzen by far but they were louder than Stanford fans.

Put even a few fans in Autzen and there would be some decent noise.


That reminds me, Autzen has been accused of piping in crowed noise over the load speakers for years now. This could be a good time to put that to good use.


Interesting topic Ryan. I wonder if and when a vaccine is made, how many people will take it. I’ve read many headlines where 30-40% won’t take it. How does that fare when you want people in the stands that won’t spread the virus? I’m all for fans in the stands, but whats the point if a 3rd of them won’t take precautions?
I guess we’ll have to look at it like we do with the Flu. It’s always there even though there’s vaccines for it.


I did have to smile at the comment, “Let’s wait a little longer, because 13,500 people in Autzen would be a travesty,” because I attended games in the late 70s (and probably into the 80s) when there were often only about 10,000 fans in the stands–and those of us there cheered good plays and I pretty sure the players heard us. :)

While I agree that it would be much different to play the games with no fans or a severely limited number, I think the players would still be up for the games and perform with energy. In the olden days when practices were open and there were only a handful of spectators (such as when they used a practice field across the street from Autzen), the players took practices and scrimmages seriously, and seemed to appreciate even the smattering of cheering they would get from a few people on the sidelines.

I would love to watch the Ducks on TV this fall, but I do agree the atmosphere would be really strange without the fans, the band, the Duck.


GAWD Annie, you’re old. I was there too in those days. While there were some cheers, there were a few jeers too. I took my future wife-to-be to her first Ducks game in ’78. She was new to Eugene, and had been a several year season ticket holder in the Big House in Ann Arbor. Some Ducks (fans?) near us had bags over their heads to conceal their identities. She was more impressed with the Oregon coast than Ducks football.


LOL! I went my first Duck game in 1975–it was the last game of the season, so against the beavs, of course. The Ducks won (their 3rd win of the season) and I *think* that was for the first time in 8 years that they’d beaten osu.

I definitely remember people grumbling about the Ducks during the late 70s and early 80s. The ones that bugged me were the ones who only jeered–they did not cheer a good play or a touchdown. And even in the best years there have always been a few “fans” just waiting to make a snide remark, no matter how well the Ducks were playing. Fortunately, the cheering way outweighed the negative comments in more recent years.

I think it was about 1992 that I went to a practice for the first time. Very few people. Maybe I saw you there!


Annie, I love your opening paragraph.


Thanks. :)

Jon Sousa

I think the vast majority of Oregon fans (like 98%) would want Oregon football to return… with or without a full stadium. Most watch on TV anyway, which is why there are big bucks in it. Yes, we like to hear the roar of the crowd, but real interest is in the game itself.


Count me in your 98%. I watched Memphis and Arkansas State on Friday, on TV sans fans. Let the games begin!


I would pay to watch a practice without a crowd.

With night games and games all over the place, games are being played for tv already. I have no problem watching games on tv, without massive crowds. It is almost a natural evolution of where the game is going.

What the Pac-12 should have done was have the instant testing weeks ago. That would have taken real leadership, so I didn’t expect that, it just would have been smart.

It is time to create a plan for football again, crowds or not, IMHO. Again that would take leadership, so I am not holding my breath.

Jon Sousa

Smart, but most probably unavailable??

You can´t just will instant testing into existence. Right now in Oregon, a 2-3 day test result takes a week… because of the backlog. Everyone from the beginning has wanted instant results.


Abbot labs has had a fast, effective testing system for months. I won’t go into why it hasn’t been more widely adopted, but “everyone” hasn’t done all they can do to get instant testing available. This includes the Oregon Athletic Department and the Pac-12.

I will say, where there is a will there is a way, and there hasn’t been the will in the college ranks for lead on this issue, especially the Pac-12.

Jon Joseph

Thanks Ryan.

I note that the Sun Belt Conference, TX ST and Conference USA, SMU, both received game broadcast payment from ESPN.

I also note that Stanford has cut 6 varsity sports. Utah has furloughed its AD and a number of coaches. This ‘belt tightening’ is happening across the entirety of the Pac-12 conference.

You referenced Texas HS football; TX HS football is being played. As is HS football in Ohio, notwithstanding that Ohio State and Ohio U and all other MAC schools in addition to the Bobcats are not playing ball this fall.

Kevin Warren has bungled the B1G’s decision not to play beyond belief. I have no idea why Warren jumped the shark on the decision not to play; Larry then ‘immediately’ followed suit. In fairness to Larry (it hurts to type this!) the PR behind the Pac-12’s decision to cancel was much more artful than Warren’s pathetic effort. Of course Larry does have the most disinterested CFB fan base in the USA.

I just think it is unfortunate that the B1G and Pac-12 did not delay the decision on whether to play before discussing the situation with all conference commissioners; and allowing more time to determine if CFB, at least, could be played without undue risk to the student-athletes.

Why not roll the season start date back to the last weekend in September as has the SEC? Larry’s recent announcement that same day result testing will soon be available could have allowed the conference to play ball this fall and avoid a complete loss of broadcast income.

If the leader’s of the CA schools wanted to play I imagine an agreement could have been made with the state government akin to the agreement the NFL teams have made.

The game without full stadiums (BTW, I’m not certain TX ST has ever sold out the stadium in San Marcos?) certainly is not as exciting. However, the Pac-12 conference may never recover from the combined CBB tourney financial hit and the loss of broadcast income this fall.


You present an interesting case Ryan, however I have one question and that is regarding your statement the conference should wait until fans can fill Autzen Stadium to the brim to play.

COVID-19 cases are going to continue for some time before this virus is wiped out completely. Years are talked about for that and meanwhile we don’t even have a vaccine (yet). So you are either talking about postponing Pac-12 football for years or you are suggesting that we play football in the spring and take ever precaution possible for the players but not for the students in the stands. Accepting whatever COVID-19 cases that come with it.

It sounds like the Pac-12 is going to rely on testing with immediate results as the major combated to the virus right now. Which is fine for the players because the numbers are limited but Autzen holds 54,000+ fans and is usually overflowing for football games. I don’t know the cost for the virus tests the Pac-12 is talking about but I’m sure it would not be cost effective to test every fan at every game, not to mention the logistics for doing it.

So come time for spring football and we test the players but not the fans doesn’t that present an extremely large gathering at Autzen which would be a hot bed for spreading the virus ??

I have the tendency to agree with you that the Pac-12 should not play until the players can be very well protected and testing every day with immediate results would put a school into that level of protection for the players. At least it would slow down any litigation because if a player gets the virus the school could say “the player didn’t get the virus at practice or at a game, they must have gotten it when they went out for pizza”.

However there does come a time when football, for the Pac-12 has to start up again and from a financial standpoint the sooner the better with or without fans, just as long as we protect the players. Leaving the fans at home is ok with me.

After all we still have the Pac-12 television station to broadcast some of the games. Damn that Larry – – – – but thats for another time.


Thanks for this, Ryan, but I have to agree with BDF here. I am all for the Pac-12 waiting until the conditions are safe for the players; as much as an overflowing Autzen has been part of the experience, it is not imperative for the game to be played.

Prior to the restarts of the NBA, and the short season of MLB, I couldn’t watch a game from start to finish of either variety. But, now I am. So starved for sports am I, that even the strangeness of the empty venues hasn’t been a distraction; I haven’t even noticed it actually.

The layers have said the same. They thought it would be strange to play in empty lots, to not have the fans cheering, or booing, to amp up their energy. But once they got playing, while they missed the fans, their competitive juices started flowing and it was, Game On!

I really miss the games. It was sickening seeing last Saturday come and go. The Ducks were supposed to have stomped on the Bison, getting ready for the Ohio State. It would have been crazy X’s 10. But it didn’t happen, and the emptiness is sickening. So, bring on the games, we’ll all be there in Fightin’ Ducks spirit!