Pac-12 pulling the plug on non-conference games for fall sports; Utah-BYU football game is kaput

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes defensive back Julian Blackmon (23) runs an interception in the end zone for a touchdown as Brigham Young University (BYU) hosts the University of Utah, NCAA football in Provo on Thursday Aug. 29, 2019.

Pac-12 members will be playing amongst themselves this fall.

One day after the Big Ten announced it was moving to a conference-only format for fall sports, including football, the Pac-12 followed suit, announcing late Friday afternoon that it was moving its fall sports to conference-only.

The move by the Pac-12 was considered imminent in the wake of the Big Ten’s move. A vote took place earlier Friday after the league’s athletic directors, presidents and chancellors met on a previously-scheduled conference call.

The University of Utah will lose its three non-conference football games against BYU (Sept. 3), Montana State (Sept. 12) and at Wyoming (Sept. 19). The Utes and Cougars were set to meet for the 101st time. If the game is to be made up, the first season in which that is possible would be 2029. Utah and BYU will play in 2021, the Utes’ schedule is full in 2022 and 2023, and two sides are slated to meet each season between 2024 and 2028.

“While we support the Pac-12 Conference’s decision today to only play conference games this fall in football, volleyball and soccer, we are disappointed for our student-athletes, coaches and fans,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “We know it is particularly difficult to miss the rivalry matchups with BYU in these sports, and we look forward to continuing those as soon as we are able. These are truly unprecedented times, and we are working diligently to determine appropriate solutions while prioritizing the health and safety of everyone involved.”

Utah’s first conference game is currently scheduled for Sept. 26 at Cal, but the Pac-12 says it will announce details on conference-only schedules no later than July 31. There has been no indication as to whether the Pac-12 will opt to play nine or 10 games.

Furthermore, the league is delaying the start of mandatory athletic activities for the time being.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports continues to be our number one priority,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “Our decisions have and will be guided by science and data, and based upon the trends and indicators over the past days, it has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule, and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities.”

Utah losing three non-conference football games, two of which are at Rice-Eccles Stadium, will have wide-ranging, costly ripple effects.

Earlier Friday on a conference call with beat reporters, Harlan said his athletic department’s operating budget for the current fiscal year has been cut by $8 million, with the potential for it to get worse if home football games start getting canceled.

In fiscal 2019, which included the 2018 football season, Utah pulled in $16.16 million in ticket sales alone across six games, an average of $2.69 million per game.

Per the terms of the game contract, obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune via GRAMA request, Utah’s Sept. 12 date with Montana State included a $675,000 check going to the Bobcats for playing the game. There is a language in the contract accounting for “uncontrollable forces,” in which case the $675,000 would not be owed and the teams have the option to reschedule.

Utah-Wyoming in Laramie on Sept. 19 was the front end of a home-and-home agreement, with the Cowboys slated to make the return trip to Salt Lake City in 2025. According to that game contract, also acquired by The Tribune via GRAMA, includes language pertaining to “impossibility” and “damages.”

The next opening on Utah’s schedule when it could make up the Montana State game is 2025, next to BYU and Wyoming. The Wyoming game in Laramie could theoretically be added to the 2027 schedule, which includes Houston and BYU.

The ramifications of no non-conference games are being felt around the Pac-12. When the Big Ten made its announcement on Thursday, Michigan-Washington on Sept. 5 in Seattle was canceled, as was Ohio State-Oregon on Sept. 12 in Eugene. With Friday’s Pac-12 news, USC-Alabama, arguably the biggest Week 1 game in the country, is now off.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott tests positive for COVID-19

On the heels of the non-conference fall sports announcement, the Pac-12 announced commissioner Larry Scott has tested positive for COVID-19.

Scott, 55, had been experiencing flu-like symptoms late this week, prompting the test. Scott is now in self-quarantine, while while carrying on his commissioner duties remotely.