There will indeed be Pac-12 football played this fall, the conference announced Thursday afternoon following a meeting of the Pac-12 CEO Group.
Forty four days after announcing it would postpone all fall sports, including football, until Jan. 1, 2021 at the earliest, the Pac-12 said today it would again change its fall plans.
“I am thrilled for our student-athletes, coaches, and fans that the Pac-12 Conference presidents and chancellors voted to resume athletics practices and competitions for football, basketball, and winter sports seasons,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a statement.
The headline note to the announcement is that the conference will begin playing games on the Nov. 7 weekend (first kickoff will be Nov. 6), with all 12 programs scheduled to return at the same time.
Heading into Thursday’s announcement, several programs were pushing to begin their season on Oct. 31, comfortable with having five weeks to prepare for that game. Ultimately, the conference went in favor of uniformity, and providing a full six-week ramp-up to the start of the season.
Now, conference teams will play six regular season games (seven games total) starting on Nov. 7, though the Pac-12 did not release a game schedule with its announcement.
The two division champions will meet in the conference championship game on Dec. 18, and all conference teams will play a seventh game that day, according to a report from ESPN. Teams will play all five divisional opponents plus one interdivisional opponent during the first six weeks, then a second interdivisional opponent on Dec. 18 or 19. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the crossover game during the regular season will count towards determining divisional champions–meaning the scheduling draw will likely help determine those championship participants.
The hope is that a seven game schedule will ultimately allow a worthy conference champion to be in the discussion for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Other conference champions will likely have played more games, though the Big Ten’s will only have a maximum of eight, compared to the Pac-12’s seven.
Scott said he is confident that a 7-0 conference champion would be seriously considered for inclusion in the CFP, and that there is no requirement for a number of games played to be included. He also added that there has been no conversation about moving the dates of the CFP selection or expanding the number of teams in the playoff.
Of course, playing fewer games would still likely be taken into account by the selection committee, as will the opt out and early NFL Draft declarations from Oregon and USC–the conference front-runners heading into the season. But simply getting on the field in any way makes plenty of financial sense for the conference.
The Associated Press’ Ralph Russo mentioned today there are several million reasons for the Pac-12 to play this fall, as the conference will get $4 million for having a team in a New Year’s Six bowl game, and every Power 5 conference earns $66 million annually from the College Football Playoff, whether they have a team selected or not.
While California state and local guidelines have prevented USC football players from working out in groups of more than 12, indications are those will be altered in order to accommodate college football practices and games in the state.
This return to play was absolutely aided by a letter that USC football players penned to California Governor Gavin Newsom, which created a movement to return to the field. Bohn acknowledged the effort from those players.
“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,” Bohn said.
The Pac-12 also announced that teams may begin practicing immediately, though neither Bohn nor head coach Clay Helton specifically stated that the Trojans will begin practicing fully tomorrow, but Helton did say the team will be ready to go.
“From the outset of this pandemic USC has supported our student athletes with the necessary resources for them to remain healthy and safe while getting in good physical condition,” Helton said in a statement. “It has put us in a very good place as a team to enter an upcoming training camp. We look forward to the preparation of a season and having the opportunity to compete for championships.”
Fans will not be permitted at any Pac-12 games this fall.