There’s been yet another reversal in the college football ranks, and the Pac-12 now plans to play this fall as well. The conference initially had announced that they’d shift to a spring season (thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic) on August 11, following the Big Ten by a matter of hours. But when the three other Power Five conferences (the SEC, ACC and Big 12) opted to play anyway, and when some players, some schools, and some politicians put pressure on the Big Ten, that led to that conference announcing Sept. 16 they’d play this fall (starting October 24), and that put pressure on the Pac-12 to follow suit. And now they have.
Jon Wilner of The (San Jose) Mercury News and Kyle Bonagura of ESPN both reported that the Pac-12 had voted to play this fall shortly before 7 p.m. Eastern Thursday, with Bonagura adding a November 6 (Friday) start date. About 30 minutes later, the conference confirmed that in a release. Here’s more from that release (which also includes men’s and women’s basketball starting on Nov. 25, and wrestling, women’s gymnastics, and men’s & women’s swimming and diving starting on a school-by-school basis):
The August 11 decision of the Pac-12 CEO Group to postpone sport competitions was based upon three central concerns cited by the Medical Advisory Committee: consistent testing capabilities across all Pac-12 universities, the prevalence of the virus in Pac-12 communities and nationally, and concerns related to possible cardiac concerns potentially associated with COVID-19. The decision to resume sport competitions today is based upon updated Medical Advisory Committee recommendations that point to material improvements in each of these three areas, along with updated state and local public health guidance.
In addition to the consistent access to sufficient testing across all Pac-12 programs, community prevalence has shown continued improvement in the majority of communities across the Pac-12 footprint. To address concerns regarding potential health outcomes related to the virus, each Pac-12 sports medicine group will be implementing cardiac monitoring protocols for all student-athletes with a positive test. The Pac-12 institutions are also participating in a national COVID-19 cardiac registry which will allow for medical practitioners to monitor closely, and gain greater insight into, potential health outcomes in student-athletes.
With respect to football, there was agreement that these advances permitted either a fall or a winter season. After extensive discussion of the relative merits of the two approaches, a strong preference emerged for a fall season, and the CEOs unanimously agreed to proceed with that schedule.
That release includes that teams will play a seven-game conference-only schedule, that that schedule will be released at a later date, and that they’ll plan to hold a championship game on Friday, December 18. That was one of the initially-considered dates back in July before the season postponement, and it was a date that worked for Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada (the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders), where the conference had planned to play its championship game beginning this year. It’s unclear if the conference will still go for a Vegas championship game location or not, but that’s a date that would seem to allow them to do so. (And it might even allow them to have fans for that game; fans weren’t allowed at the Raiders’ opener this week, but that could change, and the Pac-12 statement of “No fans will be permitted at any sporting competition taking place on Pac-12 campuses” seems to leave an opening for a neutral-site game.)
With the Pac-12 reversing course, and with the Mountain West announcing later Thursday they plan to follow suit, that means that the Group of Five Mid-American Conference is the only FBS conference currently not planning to play this fall. (It’s joined by FBS independents Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Mexico State.) But there are many schools at the FCS or lower level that aren’t playing a fall season.
The Pac-12 reversal means that all of the Power Five conferences will be playing this fall, though. And with the Pac-12 and the Big Ten now on board, ESPN and Fox now have a fair bit of the college football rights they were expecting (albeit still diminished thanks to many of these conferences playing fewer games). And with three of those conferences (the Pac-12, Big Ten, and SEC) going conference-only, and the ACC going to limited out of conference play (and including Notre Dame as a “conference member”), and with all of these conferences playing differing amounts of games, it’s going to make for a very interesting College Football Playoff selection.
Of course, that’s all presuming the season gets that far. We’ve seen a ton of postponements and cancellations over COVID-19 to date, and more may be ahead. And there are still hurdles ahead for the Pac-12 in particular, including local restrictions on gatherings (including NCAA practices) in some of their schools’ areas, and their planned late start means they won’t have much scheduling flexibility. We’ll see how the conference’s restart goes. (And we’ll also see how many furloughed people they bring back.)