Salt Lake City (ABC4 Sports) – The Pac-12 Conference will play football this fall afterall.
The Pac-12 CEO Group announced today that based upon updated Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee recommendations, the conference will resume its football, basketball and winter sport seasons.
The football season will begin the weekend of November 6-7, with each team playing seven games. The schedules for each team will be released in the coming days, but teams are expected to play five games in its own division, along with two games against the other division.
That means Utah will play USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado along with two teams from the Pac-12 North.
“Our players have done a great job staying focused over the course of the past several months and have worked extremely hard through all of the uncertainty,” said Utes head football coach Kyle Whittingham, whose team will be able to begin practices immediately. “We’re excited that we’ve been given the go-ahead to play football this fall and look forward to getting the season underway.”
The Pac-12 basketball seasons will begin November 25th, consistent with the NCAA’s official start date announced last week.
“It’s a big day for our basketball program, fans and league as a whole,” said Utah men’s basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak. “Our team has been working tirelessly at home during this whole pandemic and I couldn’t be more proud of the hard work they’ve put in. It’s been great having them back on campus together and getting them connected for the upcoming season. There hasn’t been a lot of good news since this whole thing started back in March, so this is definitely a win for everyone involved. I know the staff and our players are thrilled and eager to hit the court full swing and get ready for the upcoming season. There is still a lot of work to be done until then, but we’re just happy as everyone else in our conference to know we’ll be playing some basketball come Nov. 25.”
The decision, voted on by the Pac-12’s CEO group Thursday, represents an official reversal after the conference announced in early August that it would postpone all sports until at least Jan. 1, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said other fall sports, such as cross country, soccer and volleyball, will continue to plan for a spring season.
The Pac-12 move comes in the wake of a similar announcement last week from the Big Ten, which will start its football season Oct. 24.
The conference championship game will be played Dec. 18, with a source telling ESPN that all 12 teams will be in action that weekend. The Pac-12 will release its full schedule of games in the next few days, the conference said.
No fans will be allowed to attend Pac-12 games taking place on campuses. That decision will be revisited in January, the conference said.
The Pac-12 has not received an indication it would be ineligible for the College Football Playoff due to its reduced schedule, sources said. Even if the Pac-12 doesn’t have a team worthy for inclusion in the four-team field, the eligibility component is important so it can be in position to collect the sizable payout. Last season, there was a $66 million base payout to each of the Power 5 conferences.
In August, the Pac-12 CEO group, which includes a president or chancellor from each university, voted unanimously to postpone the season. The explanation for the postponement included the need for daily rapid turnaround tests for COVID-19. At the time, there wasn’t a belief that would be possible 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 are expected to be operational in early October.
Along with daily antigen testing, athletes will take at least one PCR test per week.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports remains our guiding light and number one priority,” Pac-12 CEO group chair and Oregon president Michael Schill said in a statement. “Our CEO Group has taken a measured and thoughtful approach to today’s decision, including extensive consultation with stakeholders on the evolving information and data related to health and safety.”
The conference faced additional pressure after the ACC, Big 12 and SEC remained set on playing in the fall. There was a common belief in the Pac-12, sources said, that after the Big Ten postponed its season, the other Power 5 conferences would eventually do the same. When that didn’t happen and the Big Ten faced significant pressure to — and eventually did — change course, the Pac-12 was left to find a way not to be the only Power 5 conference idle in the fall.
After the Big Ten’s announcement last week, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott quickly pointed to governmental restrictions in California and Oregon that prevented the six schools in those states from practicing. By the end of the day, governors from both states publicly indicated that nothing at the state level would prevent the Pac-12 season from taking place.
California’s interim guidelines for college sports prevent teams from practicing in cohorts larger than 12 people, which isn’t practical for a sport that requires 22 players on the field in a scrimmage situation. As of Thursday afternoon, the California Department of Public Health issued a statement to ESPN that it was not aware of any changes to the guidelines. But a source told ESPN that the conference is confident the cohort guideline will be amended in time to allow for a normal practice to occur.
“It is a testament to the strength of the leadership in our football locker room and a symbol of the central role USC plays in the Pac-12 that the letter from our players to California Governor Gavin Newsom galvanized our collective return to play efforts,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a statement.
The latest hurdle the conference faced arrived Thursday when the County of Boulder, Colorado, issued a prohibition on gatherings among university students between 18 and 22 years old. Assuming the order doesn’t get extended and the Buffaloes can begin practice after 14 days, the team would have four weeks to prepare for the opener.