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SP Sports Weekly: Pac-12's newfound confidence in the football season

Pac-12 and public health officials express confidence in a safe football season amid COVID-19

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Illustration published on Wednesday, June 24, 2020.


Sports editors Koki Riley and Alex Coil chat with reporter Leo Tochterman about his story on Pac-12's and health officials' confidence in the ability to have a safe football season during COVID-19. 


ALEX COIL:

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to SP Sports Weekly, your weekly roundup of State Press Sports content. Alongside Koki Riley, I am Alex Coil, and we're the sports editors at The State Press. 

KOKI RILEY: 

Joining us on the show now is State Press sports staff writer at Leo Tochterman to talk about his latest piece on the Pac-12’s newfound confidence in having a safe 2020 football season. Thank you so much for joining us today, Leo. 

LEO TOCHTERMAN: 

Thanks for having me guys, big fan of the podcast. 

KOKI RILEY: 

We appreciate it. So, for you Leo, I want to give listeners a slight peek inside, like on the other side of the curtain here. So, my first, the question is when did you start working on this particular piece? And what about this like specific medical angle to the story piqued your interest? 

LEO TOCHTERMAN: 

Initially I started the piece in early August, before the Pac-12 officially delayed their season. And obviously with COVID-19 being such a huge topic just in everyday life and especially Pac-12 football, I thought it'd be interesting to see what kind of the confidence level was of different people who worked on the plan. I just found that really interesting and that was something I wanted to revisit now that the Pac-12 season is back on. 

ALEX COIL: 

Obviously you mentioned that you started working on this earlier. What do you think really changed the most, whether it's the Pac-12’s access to something or better knowledge of the topic from August to postponing everything, and then to September when they brought everything back? 

LEO TOCHTERMAN: 

Yeah. I think the biggest thing, the biggest difference between now and when the season's going to start is Pac, the Pac-12’s partnership with the Quidel Institute which is going to provide the entire conference and all of its athletes with rapid results testing, which, according to Larry Scott and the entire medical advisory board, was a crucial part in even trying to play a season this coming fall. So, I think that's the main difference.

Obviously another part of it is that the Pac-12, being the last conference to return to the field, kind of gets to sit out a little bit and watch, see how the other conferences operate and, you know, learn from their mistakes and learn from what they do correctly. 

KOKI RILEY:

You mentioned that you have a little bit more sort of a medical angle. The testing as you, the Quidel testing, as you just mentioned, but I was wondering, who did you talk to give you this sort of medical perspective. 

LEO TOCHTERMAN: 

Yeah. I talked to Will Humble, who is the former Arizona Department of Health Services director and he's now the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association. And Humble has a really good pulse on coronavirus in general and especially at a local level. 

So, I picked his brain just about what he thought about the idea of having a season, of what kind of health precautions were necessary and what were potential obstacles that the conference could face along the way. So, yeah, that's who I spoke to and yeah, he was super informative about it and I think he voiced a lot of confidence in the Pac-12’s plan.

ALEX COIL:

What were some of those obstacles that he mentioned to you in terms of having an actual successful season, not necessarily of winning, but of getting through this with, in a healthy manner with nobody, no big, drastic positive tests or clusters. 

LEO TOCHTERMAN:

A big thing he mentioned was he is super confident in Pac-12’s ability to make it work as a controlled environment when players are around team and around the program. But he mentioned that an obstacle is a huge obstacle facing not just ASU, but the entire conference, how to monitor players off the clock, because that's the real variable. 

Whether they are going out or even just getting it from a friend or something, it's a crucial thing that could end up having huge ripple effects throughout the locker room. As we know, because, you know, position groups could just conceivably be wiped out if, you know, one offensive lineman ends up testing positive for COVID. So, that's a huge thing he mentioned was just seeing like controlling players off the clock, making sure that they are not being foolish with COVID-19.

KOKI RILEY:

I understand that you talked to him earlier months ago when you were first working on this piece, but then had to talk to him again after the Pac-12 announced that they were actually indeed going to have a football season in 2020. So, did his answers to your questions change at all over the last few months? 

LEO TOCHTERMAN: 

Yeah, that's interesting. I think he definitely, the first time I interviewed him, he was a little bit more unsure about the idea of the season, especially considering back then Arizona was, you know, the COVID epicenter really, or a COVID hotspot I should say, in the United States. And now that that's cooled down a little bit, and the Pac-12 has established more concrete guidelines and protocols for a season, he definitely, his confidence has definitely increased in the time since then.

ALEX COIL: 

In terms of the conference, from the conference’s perspective here, there's a lot of other variables other than making sure health is a big thing. Obviously, scheduling, making sure that they were able to get all of the logistical things in place. Now that those logistical things in play are in place, how do you think the seven game schedule with no built in time, if there is a positive test, somewhere to cancel a game or anything, how do you think that's going to work out differently than some of these other conferences? 

LEO TOCHTERMAN:

Yeah, that's a big unknown, right? Like with Pac-12, starting later than all these other conferences that it gives them way less room to reschedule games. Honestly with the way that they do the schedule, I'm not even sure if a game gets canceled, it might just be canceled. That's kind of what I, how I'm kind of looking at it because there's just with it being a seven-week season and the championship game right before Christmas, there's just not a lot of time for rescheduling games. 

So, I have to think that in the case that they did need to reschedule or cancel a game, it’s more likely that they would just straight up cancel it, at least in my opinion, just because it's logistically, it's just super challenging to reschedule it if one team just has massive breakout.

KOKI RILEY:

My final question for you today is, so just based off of what Humble and those in that Pac-12 zoom call and your story said, do you think that it is safe enough to play a Pac-12 football season in 2020? 

LEO TOCHTERMAN: 

You know, it's going to be challenging, but I do think it's worth a shot. I think it is safe enough to have some semblance of a season. Obviously in 2020 expectations kind of have to be thrown up out of the door a little bit because there are going to be hiccups, there's going to be positive tests, but ultimately, I think the Pac-12 has done their due diligence on creating a plan with enough health and safety protocols in place that, you know, the season should run somewhat smoothly. 

Obviously, we're seeing in the NFL right now, things happen, but you know, I think the Pac-12 did their absolute best that they could do in terms of a plan and now I guess we just see if it works, but I'm positive that they can have some sort of a season. 

KOKI RILEY:

Alrighty. So, Leo we want to thank you for joining us in the show this week to talk about your piece. So, thank you again.

LEO TOCHTERMAN: 

Thanks for having me guys.  

ALEX COIL:

Thank you all for listening to SP Sports Weekly. For more State Press content visit statepress.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, @statepress and @statepresssport. See you all next week for the next episode of SP Sports Weekly.


Reach the reporters at ancoil@asu.edu and kbriley@asu.edu and follow @anc2018 and @KokiRiley on Twitter.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


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