Pac-12 will play a seven-match conference football season starting November 6, the league announced Thursday.
The decision, which was voted on by the Pac-12 group of CEOs on Thursday, was an official reversal after the conference announced in early August that it would suspend all exercise until at least January 1, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a release, Pac-12 said men’s and women’s basketball could start November 25 while other winter sports could be started according to the respective NCAA season. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said other fall sports, such as hiking, soccer and volleyball, would continue to be planned for spring.
The Pac-12 move comes after a similar announcement last week from the Top Ten, which will kick off the football season on October 24.
Conference championship matches will be played on December 18, with sources telling ESPN that all 12 teams will be in action that weekend. Pac-12 will release its full match schedule in the coming days, the conference said.
No fans are allowed to attend Pac-12 matches which take place on campus. The decision will be reviewed in January, the conference said.
The conference is scheduled to hold a conference call at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday to discuss decisions to play.
Pac-12 has yet to receive an indication of not being eligible for the University Football Playoffs due to a reduced schedule, sources said. Even if the Pac-12 does not have a team worthy of being included in a four-team field, the eligibility component is essential in order to be in a position to collect sizeable payouts. Last season, there was a base payout of $ 66 million for each Power 5 conference.
In August, the Pac-12 CEO group, which consists of the president or chancellor of each university, unanimously decided to postpone the season. Explanations for the delay include the need for a daily rapid turnaround test for COVID-19. At that time, there was no belief that it might happen during the fall.
However, that changed less than a month later when the conference reached an agreement with a company to provide FDA-approved daily tests that were expected to be operational in early October.
Along with daily antigen testing, athletes will have at least one PCR test per week.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all associated with the sport of Pac-12 remains our top guideline and number one priority,” said Pac-12 group chairman and Oregon president Michael Schill in a statement. “Our Group CEO has taken a measured and thoughtful approach to today’s decisions, including extensive consultation with stakeholders on growing information and data related to health and safety.”
The conference faces additional pressure after ACC, Big 12 and SEC remain in play in the fall. There is a general belief in the Pac-12, sources say, that after the Top Ten has postponed its season, another Power 5 conference will eventually do the same. When that doesn’t happen and the Top Ten faces significant pressure to – and ultimately – change course, the Pac-12 is left to find a way not to become the only Power 5 conference idle this fall.
Following last week’s Top Ten announcement, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was quick to point to government restrictions in California and Oregon preventing six schools in the state from training. At the end of the day, the governors of both states publicly pointed out that nothing at the state level will prevent the Pac-12 season from taking place.
California’s provisional guidelines for college sports prevent teams from training in groups larger than 12, which is impractical for a sport that requires 22 players on the field in a combat situation. On Thursday afternoon, the California Department of Public Health issued a statement to ESPN that it was not aware of any changes to the guidelines. However a source told ESPN the conference believes the group’s guidelines will be changed in time to allow normal practice to occur.
“It is a testament to the strength of leadership in our football dressing room and a symbol of the central role that USC plays in the Pac-12 that the letter from our players to California Governor Gavin Newsom encourages our collective effort to return to play,” USC athletics director Mike Bohn said in a statement.
Santa Clara County, where Stanford located, requiring schools to submit a safety plan before giving permission for teams to train. The plan, according to the district, has been submitted and is being reviewed.
The latest hurdle to face the conference came on Thursday when the County of Boulder, Colorado, issued a ban on gatherings among students between the ages of 18 and 22. Assuming the order is not extended and Buffalo can start training after 14 days, the team will have four weeks to prepare the opener.
The Pac-12 says teams with health approval can start training immediately.