The Pac-12 is out front in trying salvage fall sports with real, tangible decisions about the fate of the 2020 college football season looming over the next few weeks.
According to a Thursday report from Jon Wilner of The Mercury News, the Pac-12 is readying to move forward with a 10-game conference-only schedule. The league previously said July 10 it would release its new football schedule no later July 31. A Pac-12 spokesman confirmed that timeline Wednesday.
Multiple sources told The Salt Lake Tribune early Thursday that the schedule is still being worked on, so nothing is in stone.
The schedule, which still requires approval from the league’s presidents and chancellors, calls for each team to play the other five teams in its division, plus five crossover games. That means, per usual, Utah will play the rest of the Pac-12 South, which includes USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Colorado. Crossover game options out of the Pac-12 North include Oregon, Oregon State, Cal, Stanford, Washington and Washington State.
Under normal conditions, the Pac-12′s schedule rotation in 2020 has the Utes playing every team except Stanford and prohibitive league favorite Oregon.
Per Wilner, season openers are being lined up for Sept. 19, with at least two byes built in. Additionally, nine-game models are still on the table if decision makers prefer a more conservative approach or if health factors dictate a change.
The Pac-12′s plan for 10 games, two byes and a mid-September start will be viewed as aggressive. On July 9, one day before the Pac-12 announced its conference-only plan, the Big Ten announced its own plan to cancel nonconference games and only play league games. The 14-team, 11-state league has been largely silent on how that will work. Meanwhile, the Big 12, SEC and ACC haven’t announced anything firm, while rumors swirl about what they’ll do. Everything from conference only, conference only plus one, and full 12-game slates among the options being bandied about.
Anything the Pac-12 comes up with will have a tough set of circumstances, mostly because its six-state footprint is at various stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. California and Arizona, which combine to house half the Pac-12, are currently in worse shape than Utah, Washington, Oregon and Colorado.
Knowing that health factors, most notably positive tests, could throw a wrench in the schedule, the Pac-12 is planning to utilize a 14-week window to contest the 10 regular-season games, plus the Pac-12 championship game.
The Pac-12 championship game is currently slated for Dec. 4 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. If the regular season is interrupted and the weekend of Dec. 4-5 is needed for makeup games, the league, according to Wilner, is offering flexibility by securing the option of moving the title game to the weekend of Dec. 11-12. If that weekend is also needed for makeups, Dec. 18-19 is also an option.
Penciling in Dec. 19 as the last chance to play the Pac-12 title game would, in theory, still give a College Football Playoff participant two weeks to prepare for a semifinal. The Rose and Sugar bowls will act as this season’s CFP semifinals. Both games currently remain scheduled for New Year’s Day.
A 14-week window with Dec. 19 as the final date for the title game also offers the chance to get most of a season in, even if it isn’t 10 games. Hypothetically, if the Pac-12 cannot start on Sept. 19 and has to back up two weeks to Oct. 3, eight games plus the title game could still get played.