Projecting how a collection of university presidents and chancellors will rule on athletic matters is a fool’s game of the highest order.
The Hotline is going there anyhow — not because we want to but because trying to guess what the Pac-12’s CEOs will decide this afternoon is an effective vehicle for explaining the myriad issues and complexities.
First off, the timing of the meeting is essential to understanding what might not happen.
It was scheduled before the developments Wednesday, when governors Gavin Newsom and Kate Brown provided high-level clearance for the California and Oregon schools, respectively, to return to practice in good old 11-on-11 fashion and not just against air.
The meeting was scheduled for today because of basketball.
The Division I Council was expected to vote Wednesday on a revised calendar for for the basketball season, so the conference set the CEO meeting to follow closely the Council vote.
That way, any decisions on Pac-12 basketball could be addressed promptly — perhaps even before decisions on football. (Give that a moment’s thought.)
Now, unexpectedly, the landscape-shifting football developments of the past 48 hours have been added to the agenda.
But there are at least as many unanswered questions as there are certainties with regard to football, and the presidents — risk-averse by nature, especially in groups of 12 — don’t like casting votes when unknowns dominate the discussion.
For that reason, we don’t expect the conference to set an official date for the start of the football season.
It almost assuredly will be Oct. 31 or Nov. 7, with Hotline sources indicating that the athletic directors prefer a Halloween start.
But with the unknowns, we expect the presidents to announce only that the postponement of competition for fall and winter sports has been lifted.
They need to take that step to signal to the athletes that their wait it over — that they will be back on the field and court this fall, with the specifics to come.
(For Pac-12 basketball, that likely means starting the season with the rest of the country on Nov. 25.)
The CEOs’ decision to lift the postponement could come in tandem with an announcement that teams can begin non-contact practice as soon as they’re ready, so long as the process meets guidelines set by local health authorities.
In other words, the presidents might not require everyone to start the multi-week ramp-up phase at the same time.
Nor should they. Some schools are further along in preparation than others because of local conditions (pandemic, wildfires) or the number of players who must quarantine after returning to campus from out-of-state.
Full-contact workouts won’t begin until the conference has the ability to administer daily antigen tests, which are scheduled to arrive at the end of the month.
Even then, several teams might not be ready to begin training camp on a timeline that tracks optimally with an Oct. 31 start.
(UCLA and Stanford, largely for reasons outside their control, are two that face steep challenges ramping up.)
Would the presidents approve a staggered start for training camp? And how might the variance in preparation impact a decision to start the season on Oct. 31, as compared to Nov. 7?
What we know for sure is they don’t have to make those decisions today.
They could reconvene this weekend, or early next week, and set firm schedules for the regular season and training camp.
By then, Stanford and Cal might have coordinated practice protocols with their local health authorities.
(The L.A. schools received clearance on Wednesday, thanks to the Mike Bohn-Martin Jarmond double team.)
Bottom line: Whether you agree or not with the Aug. 11 decision to postpone, the conference has moved in a unified, methodical, sensible fashion (i.e., the anti-Big Ten approach) for six difficult months.
If delaying decisions on start dates is necessary to allow the harmony to continue — and it could very well be, given varying conditions on the campuses — then the presidents will undoubtedly lean that way.
End the postponement of competition.
Allow the ramp-up phase to commence.
Hold off on committing to a start date.
That’s our expectation of what we’ll see this afternoon … for better or (quite possibly) worse.