On July 10, the Pac-12 became the second Power Five conference (following the Big Ten) to announce their fall sports would only play conference-only games this year. Jon Wilner of The Mercury News now has a look at what the league is planning for football from a scheduling perspective. The final version is expected to be unveiled next week, but still needs the approval of school presidents and chancellors; however, the details Wilner has so far are certainly notable, and they include a Sept. 19 start for a schedule where each team will have 10 regular-season games and at least two bye weeks. The different proposed conference championship dates are perhaps particularly notable; the plan is to hold the conference championship Friday, Dec. 4 in Las Vegas as originally planned, but Dec. 11-12 and Dec. 18-19 are also possibilities. Here’s more on that from Wilner’s piece:
The date “will depend if they flex weeks,” a source said.
The pliable date for the championship is the result of flexibility with the bowl schedule.
ESPN, which owns the vast majority of bowl games, has the option to move them around like chess pieces — they could be rescheduled for January, if necessary.
Wilner also notes that the Dec. 19 date is the latest one the conference is currently considering for the championship game, as that would still leave two weeks before the College Football Playoff semifinals (currently planned for Jan. 1 at the Rose and Sugar Bowl). While that might feel optimistic for the Pac-12, as its teams have only played three games in College Football Playoff history (an Oregon semifinal win and then final loss in 2014 and a Washington semifinal loss in 2016), it’s certainly worth building that kind of break into the schedule in case a Pac-12 team is picked.
It would be disastrous for a conference to have a team make the playoff, play a week later, lose, and blame it on short rest thanks to a conference championship game. So stating that Dec. 19 is the last possible date currently contemplated for a conference championship game helps avoid that. And if this college football season does go off as currently planned with most Power Five conferences playing conference-only games, the playoff selection process could be even stranger than usual, and that might lead to unusual results.
If the conference championship game does wind up being moved later, that could be interesting on the broadcasting side as well. The Pac-12 conference championship game is typically on Friday night of the first weekend in December, and the other conference championships usually take place that weekend too. The Pac-12 game is on ESPN or ABC in odd years and on Fox in even years, so it would be on Fox this year. If it winds up being on the second or third weekend in December instead, and if the other conference games go ahead as planned, that might make it easier to give it a good Saturday slot and get it some more viewers.
And there could be particular national interest in the Pac-12 game if it’s the last one to be played and if there are potential playoff selection implications. If other conferences have wrapped up and the Pac-12 is still going, that also might get really interesting for the selection committee and for ESPN’s specials on their decisions.
This contemplated Pac-12 schedule starts in what would have been Week 3, and it would have teams starting training camps in mid-August. This proposed schedule also has each team playing its five divisional opponents and then playing a further five crossover games. This could decrease to nine games per team if school officials prefer that plan, though.
And as sources noted to Wilner, it’s all dependent on how COVID-19 numbers look in a few weeks, and on what local health authorities permit. There are currently many more cases in California and Arizona than Utah, Oregon, Colorado and Washington, so the conference’s schools could be in significantly different situations. And if the larger situation continues to get worse, this all might be moot. One source told Wilner this schedule is “assuming some success in the next month or two (against the virus)”; we’ll see if that assumption is correct, and if this plays out as the Pac-12 is planning.