The Big Ten might have provided a taste of things to come on Thursday, as the conference announced that it will plan to have a conference-only schedule this fall. The Athletic is reporting that the Pac-12 could announce the same decision in the coming days.
“The Big Ten Conference announced today that if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports,” the Big Ten Conference announced in a statement. “Details for these sports will be released at a later date, while decisions on sports not listed above will continue to be evaluated. By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”
If the Pac-12 does indeed follow suit, USC will lose a neutral site game against Alabama and a home game against New Mexico, which would have been the Trojans’ first two games of the season. USC’s home game against Notre Dame would be an interesting case to follow, as the Fighting Irish would be left virtually on their own if every Autonomy 5 conference goes to a conference-only schedule.
There are reports that the ACC will include Notre Dame even if it goes to a conference-only schedule this fall, as the Fighting Irish have six games scheduled against ACC opponents. Notre Dame has two games against Pac-12 programs–Stanford and USC–and one against Wisconsin of the Big Ten.
USC’s schedule could stay fairly consistent even without the three non-conference games. Its string of conference games runs without a non-conference break. The Trojans would not play until visiting Stanford on September 19 and then get an extra week off after the UCLA game on Nov. 21, before a potential Pac-12 Championship Game on Dec. 4.
If the conference-only schedule does come to pass, the extra weeks could be spun into more conference games, as USC is scheduled to miss Oregon State and Washington State. Both of those programs are set to play their non-conference games on Sept. 3, Sept. 12 and Sept. 19.
Alternately, keeping the nine-game conference schedule (or a 10-game slate) and moving the first conference games forward could allow the conference to create some spacing throughout the schedule, to allow for open dates to play any games that need to be postponed or rescheduled. It also could allow the Pac-12 to create conference-wide health and safety protocols so that conference schools have a complete understanding as to what opposing teams are doing and have done to combat the spread of Covid-19–something that might not have been possible against non-conference opponents.
Ultimately, this could be part of a slow trickle toward the cancelation or postponement of the entire 2020 football season. But for now, conferences are looking at any way possible to play the season while doing everything possible to ensure the health and safety of its student-athletes. And the final line of the Big Ten’s statement today drove that point home.
“As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate.”