Pac-12 may have a football schedule, but COVID-19 will decide whether or not it plays

The Pac-12 has itself a football schedule, which is more than can be said for the rest of the Power Five.

The ACC has home and away conference opponents set for a 10+1 schedule, sans dates, and the SEC has the outline of a 10-game conference-only schedule lined up, sans dates, but the Pac-12 is ready to go. A Sept. 26 start, 10 games, two open weeks, a conference championship game moved back two weeks to the weekend of Dec. 18-19. By any measure, the league has been prudent but also ambitious, if not aggressive, in trying to get a football season played.

With all of that said, even the best-laid plans are going to have to go before the COVID-19 pandemic, and if it doesn’t cooperate, that prudent, ambitious, aggressive schedule is not getting played as prescribed.

After the schedule was released Friday afternoon, Mark Harlan got on a Zoom call with reporters. It didn’t take long for someone to ask Utah’s athletic director about positive tests and what it would take for a game to be postponed, or even canceled.

“As we go into this adventure, this is an aspirational schedule, we recognize that,” Harlan said. “We built it to be flexible. We know that, in the course of this schedule, there’s going to be moments where a team can’t play. I think it would be foolish to think it would not happen.”

The seven weeks between now and the Sept. 26 openers will offer a slew of concerns and questions. Among them, what if all 12 programs are unable to begin training camp on time beginning Aug. 17? California and Arizona, which combine to house half the Pac-12, have been hard hit by COVID-19. Allowing specifically USC and UCLA, two Pac-12 cornerstones, to begin Aug. 17 doesn’t seem feasible at the moment.

With Aug. 17 as the common starting point, teams will have 40 days before the season begins. Within those 40 days, 25 can contain a practice.

“For some of our programs, this is still subject to public health authorities and government approvals,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Friday afternoon on a conference call. “Everyone can start as early as Aug. 17, but it’s not my expectation that everyone will start or manage their 25 the same way.”

The schedule itself was produced with COVID-19 interruptions in mind. All Week 1 opponents share the same bye week. For example, Utah will begin vs. Washington State in Pullman on Sept. 26. Both programs have an open date on Oct. 24.

The thinking there is, if season openers get delayed, you can simply pick up that Utah-Washington State game and move it to Oct. 24. If the Arizona-Arizona State opener doesn’t get played, the in-state rivals share the same bye on Oct. 17. Early indications out of USC and UCLA are that they will opt for more time, so that season opener appears a safe bet to move to Oct. 31.

Additionally, everyone has Dec. 12 off in case makeup games need to be played. The fact the Pac-12 championship game has been moved to Dec. 18 or 19 is out of necessity. The bright side is, it would still give a potential College Football Playoff participant two weeks to prepare for either the Rose or Sugar Bowl, both of which remain scheduled for New Year’s Day.

“We’ve got basically two opportunities for each team to reschedule or delay the start,” Scott said. “We realize there are some markets that don’t have the requisite approvals at the moment to start on time. We need to make sure they’ve got a safe and robust training camp to be able to play on time.”