UPDATE AS OF OCT. 14, 2020: With Santa Clara County in the “orange” tier of the State of California’s COVID-19 risk framework, some varsity athletics activities are able to resume, with restrictions, under state and county health and safety protocols.

Dear Stanford community,

This afternoon, following a meeting of its CEO Group, the Pac-12 Conference announced plans for the resumption of practice and competition in several varsity sports. You can read the Pac-12 announcement here.

I want to share some information with you about what this means for Stanford, and also some context about how Stanford approached the issues involved in this decision.

First, the decision means that Pac-12 universities that have protocols consistent with guidance from their local public health officials can begin football competition on November 6, and men’s and women’s basketball competition on November 25, with in-person practices resuming immediately or as soon as individual institutions are able to do so. The Pac-12 also cleared wrestling, women’s gymnastics, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving to resume practice when individual institutions are able to do so, with season start dates to be determined. (For fall sports other than football, the NCAA has postponed championships until later in the academic year, which means those seasons have been delayed.)

Fans will not be permitted at competitions taking place on Pac-12 campuses, a decision that will be revisited in January based on health and safety considerations.

For Stanford, Santa Clara County guidance does not currently allow us to begin athletic contact practices or competition. We are having constructive discussions with Santa Clara County right now about the health and safety protocols that are needed to resume athletics. 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. 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.

Second, I want to acknowledge the complexity of the issues involved with resuming athletic activities. Over the last several days I have had conversations about these issues with a range of students, faculty, staff and alumni. Two general sets of questions emerged: 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? I have been reflecting deeply on these questions.

Our approach to resuming athletic activity at Stanford emphasizes three things: It provides first and foremost for the health and safety of our student-athletes, as well as our broader community. It gives our students the final decision about whether or not to play. And, it allows them to gradually resume activities that cannot be done online, as we also have been doing in other areas of university activity. 

The medical situation was the driving consideration in the Pac-12’s discussions. The Pac-12’s Medical Advisory Committee has been evaluating the issues and recently reported improvements in three areas since the conference’s previous decision to delay competition: first, prevalence of COVID-19 in the community; second, the availability of daily testing; and third, increased insight into potential cardiac effects of COVID-19 infection and new protocols for monitoring and managing them. This led the Medical Advisory Committee to endorse a staged path forward to resumption of practice and play, with appropriate safeguards.

At Stanford, when we are able to resume contact athletic activities we intend to have rigorous health and safety protocols, provide our student-athletes with extensive information about COVID-19, and ensure that they are able to make the final decision whether or not to play – with an authentic and robust opt-out option if they are not comfortable. We also will be taking steps, in consultation with Santa Clara County, to ensure that any resumption of activities does not compromise the health and safety of our broader community.

Prior to the latest medical guidance, a plan considered by the Pac-12 involved all Pac-12 schools holding a football season in the winter. At Stanford, this would have allowed time to continue our consultations with our local public health authorities and to otherwise prepare gradually for the re-start of activity. In our Pac-12 CEO Group meeting today, there was agreement that the new medical advice permitted either a fall or a winter season. After extensive discussion of the relative merits of the two approaches, a strong preference in the group emerged for a fall football season, which I believe is also workable at Stanford, and which I therefore endorsed.

In addition to the medical issues, our other major consideration at Stanford has been how resuming athletic activities fits into our broader effort to re-start university activities and operations. We reached the conclusion that allowing athletic competition, within the constraints I have described, is consistent with the overall approach we have been taking.

We are in the gradual process of resuming, with the appropriate precautions, the in-person activities that people came to Stanford to do – with a priority extended to those activities that cannot be done online. For example, after the initial period of shutdown in March due to COVID-19, we soon resumed elective surgeries in our hospitals. We placed a priority on bringing back research activities that cannot be done online, and indeed many of the people who are physically on campus each day are involved in research. We allowed graduate students to start the fall quarter in residence here on campus, where their research is. Santa Clara County offered new latitude in several areas, first by allowing essential visitors in student residences, and then as you saw earlier this week, introducing the concept of “households” (i.e., social pods) in student housing and allowing outdoor classes to begin moving indoors subject to density limits, topics on which we will be sharing more soon. We are exploring additional ways of providing more near-term flexibility for activities that have been constrained by the pandemic, and we also continue planning with the goal of bringing cohorts of undergraduates back to campus for the winter quarter.

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. The rest of our conference, and the other Power 5 conferences, are now proceeding with competition. 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.

I know that many of you will welcome the opportunity to cheer on the Cardinal once again, as I will, once athletic activities are fully approved. We are equally committed to continuing the careful resumption of other activities at Stanford as we are able to do so. Thank you for your continued partnership.


Marc Tessier-Lavigne