When the Pac-12 Conference voted to postpone its fall football season on Aug. 11, commissioner Larry Scott said, “We came to the conclusion reluctantly that there’s no indication things are likely to change in terms of the criteria that influenced this in the next few weeks.”
And then everything changed.
On Sept. 3, the Pac-12 announced an agreement with diagnostic health care manufacturer Quidel Corporation to implement daily rapid-results COVID-19 testing for close-contact sports across all of its campuses.
And this week, after the Big Ten unveiled a fall season starting Oct. 23, the Pac-12 quickly received permissions from public health authorities in California and Oregon to move forward with contact practices.
Which is how we arrived at a meeting with the conference’s presidents and chancellors Friday, to discuss a possible resumption of the fall football season.
“The Pac-12 CEO Group had an informative and productive meeting earlier today,” read an official statement. “We plan to reconvene this coming Thursday, September 24 to make a decision regarding possible return to play prior to January 1. The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports will continue to be our number one priority in all of our decision making.”
Added Scott, in an interview with the Dan Patrick Show on Friday morning: “Our medical advisory committee is much more comfortable with us going forward and it looks like the hurdles have been cleared in terms of the public health authorities in the states of California and Oregon. So things are looking a lot more promising.”
Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner also reported both Stanford and California are making progress toward approval from local health authorities to resume full-contact practices, but it could take a few days.
If the Pac-12 does indeed move forward this fall, 247Sports reported the conference will pursue a seven-game season starting Nov. 7 — which would also align with Washington’s timetable. UW’s players are set to return this weekend after a three-week break, and will then have to clear a seven-day quarantine before resuming football activities. A six-week training camp, which Scott has repeatedly emphasized is nonnegotiable, could commence Sept. 28.
A seven-game season would theoretically also include a full slate of conference games Dec. 19, the day of the Pac-12 championship game. It’s worth wondering, if some teams are capable of kicking off on Halloween, whether the Pac-12 might also consider allowing one optional nonconference game (against a team with equally stringent COVID-19 testing policies) to further bolster resumes of teams.
“I think (Oct. 31) would be the most ambitious (start date) … maybe a week or two too quick for us,” Scott told Dan Patrick. “But somewhere in that ZIP code is where we’d be playing, if we’re playing.”
The prospect of the Pac-12 playing this fall at all runs in stark contrast to its position a few weeks ago. When asked what prompted this pivot — besides, most likely, the Big Ten — Scott said “the game-changer was being the first conference to get access to daily testing. And those tests are being shipped to us on Monday, with the machines and the readers.”
Scott added the conference plans to move forward together, dismissing the possibility of some teams playing if others remain sidelined.
And when the vote does happen, Scott expects “we’re going to have a consensus on this.”
The same can’t be said of the College Football Playoff committee, which will have the most complicated decision in its short history this fall. A season that lasts somewhere between six and eight games might not be enough for a Pac-12 power to even qualify for consideration.
But Scott isn’t ready to concede defeat in that department.
“I don’t think, if you ask any of my fellow commissioners, they can tell you how many games their teams are going to play,” he said. “They know what they’re going to try to play. But we’ve already seen in the first two weeks, every league that has tried to play has had to postpone games. So no one’s feeling supremely confident at this point, especially those that don’t have daily tests, that all their teams are going to play every game. So it’s uncharted territory.
“There are going to be many more differences than we’re normally used to, and I don’t know whether the average is going to be six games or eight games. I don’t think anyone can tell you. We don’t know what player availability is going to be, and the committee is going to have their work cut out for them. There’s going to be a lot more subjectivity this year. I would not rule anything out.”
The postponements persisted Friday, with Saturday’s game between Baylor and Houston the latest to be wiped out. As of 11:30 a.m., according to Athlon Sports’ Bryan Fischer, 29 FBS football games were to be played as scheduled while 16 others were been postponed or canceled.
As for Washington, the football team transitioned into voluntary, small-group strength and conditioning workouts after its fall season was postponed. The expectation is, when Pac-12 programs are allowed to practice, local health authorities will allow Washington to do so as well.