Somewhat surprisingly, pieces have fallen into place for the Pac-12 over the past two days, as the conference marches toward a fall football season after having canceled it a little more than a month ago. The cause was moved forward publicly on Tuesday by a letter from USC football players to California Governor Gavin Newsom. On Wednesday afternoon, a conversation between Newsom and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, as well as public statements from both, made it seem possible the Pac-12 could play football this fall. On Wednesday evening, following more comments from Scott, it appears that a season beginning in early November or late October is very likely.
In an appearance on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Wednesday night, Scott said the conference made positive strides during the day.
“Some good progress today with the governors in California and Oregon sending some strong signals that they’re supportive and that state regulations won’t be hurdles,” Scott said.
While Newsom said earlier Wednesday that state regulations did not prevent teams from practicing, those regulations–limiting teams to outdoor workouts and in groups of no more than 12 together–weren’t going to be workable for USC or other California programs to hold a sufficient practice.
But Scott was clear later that day that those guidelines would be loosened for the four California schools.
“Public health officials will allow for contact practices and return to competition, and that there are no state restrictions on our ability to play sports,” Scott said in a statement.
The key to the potential return is in the conference’s ability to test at a rate that meets the recommendations set out by the Pac-12’s medical advisory board. The testing machines the conference secured in an agreement with Quidel Corp. will have the ability to provide daily, 15-minute antigen tests.
Scott said that level of testing ability, “Gives our medical professionals comfort that we can return safely.”
There are seemingly two final hurdles to clear in order for every Pac-12 team to get back onto the field practicing.
For the six programs in California and Oregon, Scott said: “We still need approval from the local health officials in the counties in California and Oregon. But we’re going to push the envelope. Our student-athletes want to play, our coaches want to play. Our schools want to do so if we can do so safely, and today was a big step forward toward that.”
Clearance for USC and UCLA from local health officials in Los Angeles will reportedly be approved, according to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News.
Wilner reported that USC and UCLA athletic directors, Mike Bohn and Martin Jarmond, conducted a Zoom call with Los Angeles public health officials on Wednesday night, and that according to his sources, the officials indicated they would not stand in the way of the Bruins and Trojans beginning practices.
California and Stanford would still need to gain clearance, though the hope is that this would be a united effort to get the conference moving forward together.
The final question will be answered by the Pac-12 CEO Group, which is scheduled to meet Friday. That meeting could produce a return-to-play concept for the conference.
Aggressively, the Pac-12 could target an Oct. 24 start date to the season, but that would necessitate a schedule that is more sped-up than ones previously discussed. Scott said it would more likely come later–but hopefully not too much later.
“The best-case scenario is six weeks of practice training camp and start in the end of October, early November,” Scott said Wednesday night. “So that is the best case. And we’re going to do everything possible to play this fall if we can. Play a Pac-12 Championship Game and have teams compete for a College Football Playoff if it is possible.”
That six week ramp-up timeline is one that has been used many times by conference coaches, and Scott was clear in stating that number.
The Big Ten will start its season the weekend of Oct. 24, scheduled to play eight games scheduled plus a conference championship game. The only way the Pac-12 could join them that weekend is by shrinking that window down to four or five weeks. With a six week training camp, the best start the Pac-12 could hope for would be Oct. 31, and that would require starting practices this weekend or early next week.
Going the other way, if practices aren’t able to begin until after the testing machines arrive on Sept. 30 and teams can begin collecting results from those, that six-week ramp up would push the start date back to the weekend of Nov. 14. With the College Football Playoff committee scheduled to hold their final meetings on Dec. 18-20, that start date would only allow for a five-game regular season plus a conference championship game. But there’s no guarantee that six games would be enough to earn a spot in a College Football Playoff field if other conference teams are playing at least eight and as many as 12 games this season.
Though there are still questions to answer, Wednesday delivered plenty of positive news for the conference as it looks to find a way onto the field for a fall football season.