The Colorado football team still doesn’t know if it will actually have a season this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the Buffaloes at least have a new starting date to target.
On Friday, the Pac-12 released a revised, conference-only football schedule starting on Sept. 26. Colorado is slated to visit defending champion Oregon in the latest season opener for the Buffs since 1961, when they opened on Sept. 30.
The Buffs’ home opener is slated for Oct. 3 against defending South division champion Utah. They will also have home dates with Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington State; and road trips to Arizona, Southern California, Washington and Stanford.
CU and other Pac-12 teams are each scheduled to play 10 regular season games over a 12-week period, while starting the season three weeks later than originally planned. Each team will have five home games and preseason camp can begin on Aug. 17.
In addition to a new football schedule, the Pac-12 CEO group also approved a model for other fall sports. Competition for men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and cross country will start no earlier than the weekend of Sept. 26. Practices can begin Aug. 15 for those sports.
Public health guidelines could force more changes – or perhaps a cancellation – to the schedule at a later time, but the Pac-12 and other Football Bowl Subdivision conferences are holding out hope that they can play.
By delaying the start of the season three weeks – or four in the case of Arizona, California and UCLA, which all had Aug. 29 games originally scheduled – the Pac-12 is buying more time to watch COVID-19 trends. The 10-game model also allows for flexibility if games need to be moved.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the conference goes into this model with “a lot of humility” in realizing that an outbreak of COVID-19 could cause some teams to delay the start of camp or the season, or possibly reschedule games. He also acknowledged there might be some teams that can’t get all 10 games played.
“It’s one of the reasons why building in flexibility to the schedule was so important,” Scott said in a conference call with media on Friday. “We’re actually going in expecting that the scenario (of an outbreak) is a real possibility and likelihood, and as much as possible we will flex for that knowing that we’re supposed to end by December 19. That’s the balance that we’re trying to strike.
“If schools can’t start (on Aug. 17) and can’t get a safe on-ramp and preparation for the season, we will reevaluate, like everything about this.”
Scott added that he can’t make a prediction about whether the season will actually take place but that he is cautiously optimistic.
“There are elements outside our control that are going to have a lot of influence on that question,” he said. “What’s happening in our communities? What’s happening in our campuses? A lot of that’s got to do with mask wearing, social distancing and other things. What happens when thousands of students come back to our campuses? None of us have the answer to that question.”
In getting to this point, the Pac-12 has taken input from countless administrators, medical personnel, coaches and even the student-athletes.
“It’s really been a collaborative, but exhaustive, process,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said during the conference call. “Knowing the fluidity would require us to be flexible, day in and day out, and the acknowledgement that we can only do it through great collaboration. That has been the thing that has been most impressive to me in seeing how the Pac-12 has handled this thing.”
Dr. Doug Auckerman, from Oregon State, said the conference has had key input from infectious disease specialists and that medical experts in the Pac-12 speak regularly in developing conference protocols.
“I can say without question that all of us have a really healthy respect for this virus,” Auckerman said. “The planning processes that we’ve laid out are multiple pages; they involve how do you clean locker rooms; how do you manage the personnel flow in and out of the buildings; face coverings and when to wear them. Those are all procedures and policies that we put in place to help guide our institutions to make it as safe as we can.”
Stanford head coach David Shaw said he’s been impressed with the Pac-12 working group in developing a plan that is the best and safest for student-athletes.
“Nobody cares about these young people more than we do,” he said.
Three weeks after announcing a conference-only fall season, the Pac-12 is the first Power 5 conference to release a revised football schedule. It includes the Pac-12 championship game, to be played Dec. 18 or 19 at an on-campus site, rather than at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas as originally planned. The Pac-12 will delay its two-year agreement with partners in Las Vegas until 2021.
CU’s schedule will include the nine conference foes originally slated, while adding in a date with Oregon State. In addition, CU saw the order of its games changed and instead of hosting Oregon, the Buffs are now scheduled to play the Ducks on their home field for the second year in a row.
Scott said each team in the conference will be allowed to determine what percentage of fans, if any, can attend home games. CU has not determined its policy for allowing fans to attend games, but CU athletic director Rick George sent an email to fans on Friday to provide an update on that situation.
“In the coming weeks, if not days, we will know how fan attendance will be impacted at fall sports events,” George wrote. “We continue to work with the State of Colorado, the City of Boulder and the Boulder County Health Department to find the safest solution for everyone in the Boulder community. We ask for your patience until those decisions are announced to consider what the impacts are for you and our program.
“We know this fall will look different than anything we’ve experienced before. Once the decision is made on how many fans we can safely host in Folsom Field, if any, we will share that information as soon as possible. We have multiple contingency plans prepared and will communicate our direction with you when it is appropriate.”
Around the country, other Power 5 conferences are still working on their revised schedules.
ACC: On Wednesday, the conference announced an 11-game model, with a plan to start the week of Sept. 7. The model includes 10 conference games and allows for one non-conference game against an in-state opponent. As part of its announcement, the ACC released the breakdown of opponents (and locations) for each team, but did not announce dates. Notre Dame, which is an independent, is joining the ACC for the season and will be eligible for the conference title game, slated for either Dec. 12 or Dec. 19.
Big Ten: The first conference to announce it was going to a conference-only schedule, the Big Ten has not yet released its schedule. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, the “most likely plan,” expected to be released soon would be a 10-game schedule starting Sept. 5.
Big 12: Commissioner Bob Bowlsby had been intent on trying to play a full-12 game schedule, but that’s not likely with its Power 5 peers nixing non-conference games. Each Big 12 team has already had at least one game canceled (two for West Virginia). With the other conferences already announcing their plans, the Big 12 is likely to make a decision soon. Two Big 12 teams, Kansas and Oklahoma, have moved their season openers up a week to Aug. 29 and both teams opened preseason camp on Friday.
SEC: On Thursday, the SEC finally decided to give up hope for a 12-game season and announced it would play a 10-game, conference-only schedule starting Sept. 26. The schedule of games will be released at a later date, but the conference title game is now slated for Dec. 19.
Colorado’s revised 2020 football schedule
Sept. 26 – at Oregon
Oct. 3 – UTAH
Oct. 10 – at Arizona
Oct. 17 – at Southern California
Oct. 24 – Bye
Oct. 31 – ARIZONA STATE
Nov. 6 – at Washington (Friday)
Nov. 14 – UCLA
Nov. 21 – at Stanford
Nov. 28 – OREGON STATE
Dec. 5 – WASHINGTON STATE
Dec. 12 – Bye
Dec. 18 or 19 – Pac-12 championship game
Home games in bold and all caps.