Oklahoma interim president Joseph Harroz says "the intent is to have" sports this fall

Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman is empty on the night of the Sooners' scheduled 2020 spring game, which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

NORMAN, Okla. — University of Oklahoma interim president Joseph Harroz said “the intent is to have — and the belief right now is there will be — sports in the fall” during the scheduled OU Board of Regents meeting Friday.

Like others wondering whether the next academic year will include football, Harroz didn’t provide concrete answers.

Five months away from the college football season opener, administrators and conference commissioners are surverying logistics as they preparing for what they hope is a relatively normal season, whether it includes fans in the stands or not.

The coronavirus pandemic stalled all NCAA sports in March. Football’s return would be an important restart for college athletics, inflating morale and financial ledgers.

“The question in what form and exactly how [fall sports will occur] is a question being worked on daily, for which there are not bright and clear answers at this moment,” Harroz said. “It is a serious work in progress. It is important and material.

“[We’re] working with our athletic director [Joe Castiglione]. Working with, certainly because football is the revenue sport, working with Lincoln Riley, working with the Big 12 commissioner [Bob Bowlsby], obviously the NCAA. A lot of conversation going on. A deep desire to have it this fall, an intention to have it this fall.

“But there are so many specifics that go into this that are just now being worked through that there is not clarity over exactly how it will occur. But that’s being worked on in a very aggressive and planful way.”

Before football returns to college campuses government and health officials must deem it safe, and enable it to take place legally, judging by local virus infection trends.

Decision makers like Harroz can help plan and guide a season, but they won’t decide whether it takes place.

The state of Oregon received sobering news on that front Thursday when Gov. Kate Brown said “any large gathering” in the state “at least through September should be canceled or modified.”

That suggests at best, there will be no fans at the anticipated Oregon and Ohio State game scheduled in Eugene on Sept. 12.

OU has six home games scheduled in 2020. Much uncertainty surrounds a Sept. 26 nonconference game at Army. West Point is located in New York state’s Orange County, which has been hit hard by the virus.

With COVID-19 threatening not only sports but student enrollment, Harroz faces arguably his toughest task since taking over as interim president in 2019 following Jim Gallogly’s resignation.

Harroz reported OU’s Norman campus losses have reached $4.2 million since the pandemic began. While summer enrollment numbers are up 20%, freshmen commitments for the fall semester were down 2-3%.

Football is central to the student experience at OU, tying sports and enrollment together. That’s the case at many college campuses.

Harroz will be a key voice in the Big 12 spring meetings scheduled this month. The annual summit of university presidents and athletic directors serves to tackle important league issues.

This year will be nothing like Harroz’s Big 12 meetings experience as interim president in 2019. At that point, “the agenda wasn’t that heavy of a lift as compared to some before,” he said after a regents meeting last July. “I mean, big issues that sometimes dominate those agendas just weren’t there.”

That has changed with Big 12 and other Power 5 leagues at the center of discussions over how and when one of the nation’s biggest sports will return.

“One question on everybody’s mind,” Harroz said Friday, “is athletics.”

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Palmateer is sports editor for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI LLC publication.

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