Surely, people will continue complaining about the Pac-12.
The league didn’t act fast enough, it waited too long to get something done, commissioner Larry Scott didn’t act aggressively enough once his league secured a rapid-response testing with Quidel, and on down the line the complaints will come.
All of it is, at least for now, moot because the Pac-12 will be playing football this fall — albeit without fans in the stadiums.
The league announced late Thursday afternoon that the presidents and chancellors unanimously approved a return-to-play plan, which will include a seven-game season, beginning the weekend of Nov. 6-7. There are no open weeks built in, and the Pac-12 championship game is slated for Dec. 18, two days before the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six bowl matchups will be selected.
Each team will play six regular-season games, five divisional and one crossover. On the weekend of the Pac-12 championship game, each team will play another crossover game as their seventh. The North and South champions will play in the title game, in addition to the second-place teams playing each other, third vs. third, etc.
The Pac-12 did not release a football schedule or even broadcast windows on Thursday. Scott said on a Zoom call with reporters Thursday evening that a schedule and broadcast windows were “still several days away, certainly by next week.”
“This is the result of what we said back in August, which is follow the science, follow the data, follow the advice from our medical experts,” Scott said. “We know how badly our student-athletes want to compete as student-athletes for the Pac-12, but we would only do so when we felt we could do so safely.”
As part of its return-to-play plan, the Pac-12 is allowing schools to practice immediately, provided they have the necessary state and local health approvals. The University of Utah indeed has the green light from local and state authorities, but it was unclear as of Thursday evening if the Utes football team would begin practicing Friday, which marks six weeks until the season begins.
Utah is currently working under the NCAA-mandated 12-hour limit, which applies to schools affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Utes will move to the in-season 20-hour limit once they officially begin practice.
“At every stage of this process, the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff has been our highest priority, and the guidance of medical experts has informed each decision,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “We are grateful for the diligent work of the Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee, the game-changing partnership with Quidel, and the leadership of the Pac-12 CEO Group to continuously evaluate new information to reach the decisions announced today.”
Add Utes coach Kyle Whittingham: “Our players have done a great job staying focused over the course of the past several months and have worked extremely hard through all of the uncertainty. We’re excited that we’ve been given the go-ahead to play football this fall and look forward to getting the season underway.”
The Pac-12 postponed its football season twice before finally arriving at Thursday’s positive developments. On July 10, the league announced it would move to a 10-game, conference-only football schedule. That slate was revealed on July 31, but optimism in the wake of that decision did not last long.
The league pulled the plug on fall football on Aug. 11, postponing all sports competitions through at least Jan. 1. The Quidel partnership was announced Sept. 3, bringing with it daily-testing capabilities, which helped steer the league through immense doubt that it could pull off a fall season.
With no open weeks built into a seven-game schedule, the Pac-12 has left itself no wiggle room if cases spike in the league footprint. Instead of postponing and moving games around the calendar, games would likely be canceled. Be that as it may, the timetable the Pac-12 has set up allows it to be in the mix for the College Football Playoff.
The question then becomes, could a 7-0 Pac-12 team get to the College Football Playoff? Conventional, reasoned thinking says no, but Scott says yes.
“Our schools are going to have the opportunity to be in the conversation, we’ll have every opportunity,” Scott said. “There is no minimum number of games, and I think we’re all very humbly going into the season realizing there could be disruptions along the way. In fact, our fellow conferences have built that into schedules with bye weeks and we’ve seen that play out in the first few weeks.”
The Pac-12 backing off its mandate of no sports until at least New Year’s allows basketball teams to begin their respective seasons on Nov. 25, which the NCAA set as the start date to the season last week. What that means for the Utes remains unclear.
Scott was noncommittal on how many conference games would be played, but did allude to the fact that most conferences are discussing 18- and 20-game models. Before the pandemic, the Pac-12 was set to move to a 20-game conference slate for the first time, with everyone playing two league games in December.
Either way, after much uncertainty, Larry Krystkowiak, Lynne Roberts and the rest of the Pac-12′s men’s and women’s basketball coaches have arrived at the starting line in terms of trying to figure out their respective schedules.
For what it’s worth, the NCAA limit on games played this season is set at 27, which would include one multi-team event involving eight teams.
Scott was scheduled to be on a Zoom call Thursday evening with his basketball coaches to discuss the matter further.