Pac-12 commissioner’s optimism for starting college football on time appears to be fading

Add Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott to the list of people who are concerned that an on-time start to the college football season might be difficult to pull off because of coronavirus spikes throughout the country.

Speaking Thursday night as a guest on a NCAA-produced webinar with Andy Katz, Scott was asked when decisions need to be made in terms of starting the season.

The University of Utah is slated to open Sept. 3 vs. BYU at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Based on the NCAA’s six-week ramp-up plan for college football, both programs can begin mandatory summer activities on July 11, with training camp able to open Aug. 5.

“I’ve been reluctant to pick a date with my colleagues when we’re going to decide because we’re watching these macro trends, how they’re affecting their campuses and their policies,” Scott said. “I don’t know that there will be one date when the world of college sports decides, or the world of college football decides. I want to underscore, unless we see a change in the trajectory of the spread of the virus and its impact pretty quickly, I think the situation is a lot more perilous than it was a few weeks ago.”

Scott’s stance came after Katz’s other guest Thursday night, NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brain Hainline, said July 13 is an important marker in the decision-making process. The majority of FBS teams will open the regular season on Sept. 5. For those programs, mandatory access can begin July 13.

As a point of reference, Scott noted that the Ivy League is slated to announce how it will proceed with football on July 8. That league famously canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments back in March as the COVID-19 pandemic picked up steam, doing so before the Power Five leagues.

All six states in which Pac-12 teams operate have seen cases rise recently, but to varying degrees of severity. To that end, recent news out of conference strongholds California and Arizona, which combine to house half the conference, has not been positive.

On Wednesday, USC announced it will be changing academic plans for the fall and offering about 80% of classes online. Scott indicated Thursday night that under that scenario, enough students would still be on campus for things like lab work and performing arts to justify student-athletes being there for the fall. University of Arizona President Robert Robbins last week said that if he had to say now whether the school would be able to open, he would say no.

Despite these challenges, Scott reiterated what Utes athletic director Mark Harlan has said multiple times during the pandemic, that the Pac-12 and its members have been working toward playing a full football schedule in the fall. Scott took it a step further Thursday, saying a 12-game slate, complete with three non-conference games, would include an agreement between Pac-12 members and their non-conference opponents on common testing standards.

How feasible it would be to come to such an agreement is unclear, but on paper, it would appear to be a steep climb. Pac-12 teams are slated to play 24 different non-conference teams this fall. Of the 24, seven are FCS and six are Power Five. The resources, not to mention the testing capabilities between those two groups, are thought to be widely different.

Furthermore, scheduling-wise, Scott is not married to an on-time start, or even a full schedule, nor should he be given the spike in cases and the huge variety of unknowns still in play.

“There’s been a lot of work done on a conference-only schedule, an abbreviated schedule, a postponed schedule, maybe even a spring schedule,” Scott said. “I’m pretty confident sitting here today that we can get to an agreement amongst all the schools we play on a testing standard that would give us trust and confidence, but there could be other reasons why we can’t play a full season or we can’t start at the end of August, and we look to go to a conference-only or delayed season.”