When will college football resume in the state of California?
For the Pac-12 Conference, that’s a critical question with an increasingly cloudy answer. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County officials publicly recommended that the county’s stay-at-home order be extended for three months — until the end of July. The California State University System — which comprises 23 schools, including Mountain West Conference programs San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State as well as 2020 UW nonconference opponent Sacramento State — also announced that most classes at its campuses will remain online this fall.
As for the Pac-12 specifically, a spokesperson from the University of California system — which includes both UCLA and Cal — told CBS Los Angeles in an email that “at this juncture, it’s likely none of our campuses will fully reopen in fall. We will be exploring a mixed approach with some material delivered in classroom and lab settings while other classes will continue to be online.”
On that subject, NCAA president Mark Emmert said last week that “all of the commissioners and every president that I’ve talked to is in clear agreement: If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus.”
But what if a Pac-12 campus is partially open, as could realistically be the case at Cal, UCLA and others? Could a football season still follow?
“I think the virus will tell us when we’re going to be able to come back and when it’s under control and when they have the proper testing and whatnot in place,” UCLA head coach Chip Kelly said on day three of the Pac-12 coaches media webinars on Wednesday. “And until that time, we’re just going to keep planning like we have a season coming up. No one has told us that we’re not playing. No one has told us that we are definitely playing.
“But we don’t want to be surprised by, ‘Hey, you guys are playing. Are you ready to go?’ I think all of us have put proper plans in place.”
And you can bet those plans aren’t written in permanent marker. On Tuesday evening, Fox Sports radio and television personality Colin Cowherd tweeted that, according to two people he trusts, USC’s Sept. 5 season opener against Alabama in Arlington, Texas, “isn’t happening.” He added that a Pac-12 football season in the spring is “much more likely.”
But, within hours, USC athletics director Mike Bohn responded, tweeting: “We have every intention of playing our game against Alabama. I’d like to remind all our fans that this is an uncertain time and there will be much disinformation. We continue to explore every model for the 2020 football season.”
Those models are being explored everywhere conference-wide, including Oregon. Last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said that large events in the state should be canceled or significantly modified through the end of September.
But does that mean that Oregon and Oregon State’s September games will be played in empty stadiums, or won’t be played at all?
“We’re always learning. It’s almost like we’re learning on a weekly basis,” Oregon State head coach (and former UW offensive coordinator) Jonathan Smith said on Wednesday. “There’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t know exactly how long this tunnel is that we’re in, but we’re going to get an opportunity to play and get (our players back on campus). When we can get them back, we want to do it safely and properly.
“So the unknown is what it is, and we’re working through that. We’re just going to continue to work hard on the day-to-day, because the light’s at the end of the tunnel.”
But now, especially, that light might not be so easy to see. When asked about how COVID-19 has impacted his recruiting efforts, Kelly said that “there are kids that are nervous about being able to play high school football in the fall, and (that’s) understandable, because we’re not sure if we’re going to play in the fall.”
With less than four months until football season, it’s hard to be sure of anything. The only certainty, it seems, is that nothing is set in stone.
“We actually are scheduled to play (CSU system school) San Diego State in game three. Would that affect that?” Kelly said. “I really don’t know. But I don’t think anybody knows. You just have to be very agile in terms of how you’re handling this whole situation and adjust to whatever happens. I think on a daily basis, things change and we have to be able to adjust to it. Nothing that was said in the last 24 to 48 hours directly impacts us playing games in September, but you never know.
“So we’ll just continue to monitor it and let the experts and the medical people determine whether it’s safe for our players to come back and play.”