One FBS football game will be played Thursday, when Alabama-Birmingham travels 250 miles south for an in-state matchup against South Alabama.
But the day’s most significant development in the sport could happen on the opposite end of the country.
In a meeting of the conference’s CEO group Thursday, the Pac-12’s presidents and chancellors could (finally) vote to play a football season this fall. A release last week stated that “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.”
The Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner reported Wednesday that the Pac-12 has the votes to play, but it’s unclear whether the CEO group will decide to stagger its season-openers between Oct. 31 and Nov. 7 — to allow programs with the appropriate public health permissions who are physically prepared to play, to do so — or opt for a uniform start Nov. 7. He also tweeted that the conference might need to develop contingency plans surrounding its four teams in California, considering that they are currently not permitted to practice in cohorts larger than 12.
Per Wilner, the state guideline reads: “IHEs (institutions of higher education) should establish cohorts as a strategy to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19. A cohort may be composed of six to 12 individuals, all members of the same team, who consistently work out and participate in activities together. Cohorts should avoid mixing with other groups.”
On “The Jimmy Lake Show” on 950 KJR Radio on Wednesday, Washington head coach Jimmy Lake said his team would be prepared to play Oct. 31, though he’d prefer to play a six-game schedule beginning Nov. 7. He’s also open to the idea of adding a seventh game for all Pac-12 teams on Dec. 19, the day of the Pac-12 title game. He advocated for the College Football Playoff vote on Dec. 20 to be pushed back to allow all conferences to play more games as well.
“I think it would be more fair for everybody to start on Nov. 7 and go six straight weeks, ending with a Pac-12 championship game, and then with second place against second place and third place against third place (etc. on Dec. 19),” Lake said. “If they decide on Oct. 31, hey, guess what? UW is going to be ready. We’re ready to go.
“But if some teams are sitting out that first week and all of a sudden some teams are playing that first week, now you’re hobbling into a Week Two game where a team hasn’t played a game yet and they’re nice and fresh. So Nov. 7 would be a premium date for me, in my opinion.”
The Pac-12’s Medical Advisory Board has long maintained that a six-week training camp — with two weeks of workouts and walk-throughs, followed by four weeks of full-contact practices — would be preferred before the start of a season. Should the conference vote Thursday to play and begin workouts next week, that would allow five weeks before Oct. 31 and six weeks before a Nov. 7 start.
Following a three-week break, the Huskies returned to campus last weekend and currently are completing a seven-day quarantine. Lake said on KJR Radio on Wednesday that his team will resume practices next Tuesday regardless of the result of Thursday’s vote.
“Either way, if there is a schedule (announced) or isn’t a schedule (announced), we have to slowly ramp these guys up,” he said. “The NCAA is not just going to let us go out there in full pads and go hit each other next week. So there’s certain protocols we have to do to ramp these guys up.
“So regardless of what news comes tomorrow, we’ll be practicing next Tuesday. That’s just in shorts and shirts, no helmets, really going through our techniques — which are obviously fundamental to how we play, which is very important, and just getting these guys back into the mode of football.”
Of course, a revived fall football season was made possible in part by the Pac-12’s partnership with diagnostic health care manufacturer Quidel Corporation — which will provide daily rapid-results COVID-19 testing for close-contact sports across all of the conference’s campuses. In an interview on The Dan Patrick Show last week, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said that “those tests are being shipped to us on Monday (Sept. 21), with the machines and the readers.”
Certainly, there is outward pressure for the Pac-12 to pursue an Oct. 31 start and thus keep up (to some degree) with its competing Power Five conferences. The ACC and Big 12 already have begun play, while the SEC will start its season this weekend and the Big Ten is slated to kick off a nine-game sprint Oct. 23. Even the Mountain West — which also touts teams in California — is eyeing an Oct. 24 season opener, Yahoo’s Pete Thamel reported Monday.
Granted, there’s no guarantee the Pac-12’s plans, whatever they are, will ultimately be executed. After all, 21 FBS football games have already been postponed since Aug. 26, according to The Associated Press’ Ralph Russo.
Should the Pac-12 sign off on a staggered Oct. 31 start, some programs — UW included — could play as many as eight games, assuming the conference signs off on a full slate on Dec. 19 (the day of the Pac-12 title game). Whether an 8-0 Pac-12 champion will have done enough to warrant College Football Playoff consideration is a separate matter for discussion.
But first, the conference needs to vote to play football this fall. It needs to approve a plan and pass through (another) amended Pac-12 schedule. It needs to provide clarity and context, and it needs to do so fast.
For months, the conference’s decision-makers maintained that time was on their side. That’s no longer the case. It’s time for action.
It’s also time to wrestle some attention away from UAB and South Alabama.
“We’re ready for another roller coaster ride,” Lake said of his team’s ability to face adversity in 2020. “We don’t think it’s going to be all hunky dory here in the next three or four months. But we’ll be ready to navigate (it).”