For better or worse, the Pac-12 is going to offer some college football-related clarity this week.
As first reported by Jon Wilner of The Mercury News, the Pac-12 will release a revised football schedule no later than Friday. This, after the league announced July 10 that all of its fall sports will play a conference-only format.
Here is a breakdown of some key factors.
How many games will each team play?
Even before Wilner’s reporting Thursday, the prevailing notion was that the Pac-12 was looking to put together a 10-game schedule, while also offering a nine-game version in case its presidents and chancellors wanted a more conservative approach.
The expectation is that everyone in charge will sign off on a 10-game schedule with five home games and five away games. Teams will play each university in their division, plus five crossover games.
For Utah, that means it will play the rest of the Pac-12 South, which includes USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Colorado, plus five teams from the Pac-12 North, which includes 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.
When will the season start? When will it end?
Per Wilner, the league is getting season-openers lined up for Sept. 19, but there were rumblings over the weekend of Sept. 12 as a start date. Either way, the Pac-12 is using a window of 14 weeks to get 11 games in, 10 regular season games plus the Pac-12 championship, which 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 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 makeup games, Dec. 18-19 is also an option.
In theory, that 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.
How is Utah affected by all this?
The Salt Lake Tribune has spent a great deal of time during the pandemic reporting and writing about various economic factors at Utah related to an altered or canceled football season. We’re not going to stop now.
In a conference call with beat reporters July 10, Utes athletic director Mark Harlan said he had to cut $8 million from his fiscal 2021 operating budget, a figure that worked in the assumption the Utes playing all six of their home games with what Harlan called “limited fans” at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Later that day, the Pac-12 announced its conference-only format, which wiped away two home football games, Sept. 3 vs. BYU and Montana State on Sept. 12. Assuming a new 10-game Pac-12 schedule this week, the Utes will get one of those lost home games back to leave it at five. The athletic department loses some game-day revenue by not having six games, but five is certainly better than four.
Utah’s crowd-modeling plans remain unknown, but as a point of reference, in fiscal 2019, Utes football raked in $16.2 million in ticket sales. That figure represented 81.1% of all ticket sales for the athletic department, 24.6% of all football-related revenue, and 16.2% of all athletic department revenue.
Will there actually be football this fall?
It should be noted that the Pac-12′s proposed scheduling plan is prudent, yet aggressive in trying to get a season played. The 14-week window to get up to 11 games in is smart business. Even if there is an interruption, enough time and flexibility have been built in.
All of that said, it is getting increasingly harder to see how a season takes place rationally and safely, at least during the fall. For starters, California and Arizona are still battling high numbers of coronavirus cases.
Monday morning’s news of the Miami Marlins dealing with a coronavirus outbreak should also be cringeworthy to college athletics decision-makers. Unlike the NBA and MLS, Major League Baseball is not contesting its truncated 60-game regular season in a bubble, and neither will college football or the NFL. To see an outbreak among an entire team, which has led to multiple games getting postponed, does not bode well for college football, which will at some point include its players congregating among tens of thousands of other students at campuses across the United States.