Although the Pac-12 Conference announced last week that college athletics can resume starting in November, sports remain on hold at Stanford University under Santa Clara County public health guidance that doesn't yet allow practices and competitions.
In a message to the campus community, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said the university is "having constructive discussions with the county about how to safely resume athletics at Stanford."
"We deeply respect the thoughtful decision-making our county has undertaken to protect public health throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and we have a shared goal of providing for the safety of our community," he wrote. "We look forward to continued discussion in the coming days that, we hope, will lead to the approval of athletic competition under rigorous health and safety standards."
The Santa Clara County Public Health Department put out its own statement last week, writing that "we and other public health experts have ongoing concerns about the transmission risks associated with intercollegiate contact sports, particularly in light of the many COVID-19 outbreaks that have occurred on college and university campuses and on various sports teams."
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released on Thursday, weekly COVID-19 cases among 18- to 22-year-olds increased 55% nationally between Aug. 2 and Sept. 5, noting that about 45% of this age group is enrolled in colleges and universities.
The county is now waiting for the state to released revised guidance that is expected to be modified to allow Pac-12 sports to proceed.
"We will review the new state guidance and proposed university protocols, make local decisions focused on the safety of the entire community, and continue to apply consistent requirements across industries, sectors, and institutions," the statement reads.
The Pac-12 Conference's decision means that Pac-12 universities with the necessary state and local health approvals can begin the football season on Nov. 6 and men's and women's basketball competitions on Nov. 25, with in-person practices starting immediately or as soon as individual schools are able to do so. Wrestling, women's gymnastics, and men's and women's swimming and diving teams have also been cleared to resume practicing when individual institutions are able to do so, with season start dates still to be determined.
Fans will not be allowed to attend any games, though that decision will be revisited in January.
The Pac-12 CEO Group said its decision was based on changes to testing capabilities and the prevalence of COVID-19 and cardiac issues as well as updated state and local public health guidance. Regular COVID-19 testing is "integral to any return to sport strategy," said the group's Medical Advisory Committee, which issued detailed recommendations around testing, the potential cardiac effects of COVID-19 infection and what should prompt universities to suspend or end athletic competitions.
Tessier-Lavigne wrote that he's been "reflecting deeply" on two main questions he's been hearing from the university community on sports: "Is resuming competition in the interest of our students' health and safety, and the safety of our broader community? And, is it appropriate given the activities that are available to other groups of people at Stanford?"
Stanford will allow student-athletes to decide whether they feel comfortable playing under "rigorous health and safety protocols." For those that do, the university hopes to allow them to gradually resume activities that can't be done online, just as other university work like research and elective surgeries have resumed.
"Athletics is clearly an activity that cannot be done online. We made a commitment to our student-athletes, when they came to Stanford, to offer them the best possible academic and athletic experience," Tessier-Lavigne wrote. "We have concluded that, as long as we are able to provide for our students' health and safety in rigorous ways, and allow them to make the final decision whether or not to play, there is no value in requiring them to miss a full year of competition."
Tessier-Lavigne also said he supports and believes a fall football season is "workable" at Stanford.
Stanford is also still hoping to bring cohorts of undergraduate students back to campus for the winter quarter, he wrote.