Rooney: Willingness to reconsider Jan. 1 start date a lift for Pac-12 hoopsters

League reportedly willing to adjust previous basketball plans

McKinley Wright IV and the rest of the starters for the No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes will try to put together better starts to games down the stretch, beginning Thursday night at Cal. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
McKinley Wright IV and the rest of the starters for the No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes will try to put together better starts to games down the stretch, beginning Thursday night at Cal. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

For football players across the Pac-12 Conference, the frustration surely is mounting.

For the Colorado Buffaloes, this was supposed to be the start of game week, zeroing in on the much-anticipated sideline debut of first-year coach Karl Dorrell with the Buffs’ first visit to Colorado State in 24 years.

Instead the Buffs, like their peers across the Pac-12, are waiting and watching, hoping some semblance of a season unfolds later in the winter even as many of their peers across the nation start kicking things off within the next week.

Though the Pac-12’s decision to delay all athletic competition amid the COVID-19 pandemic to Jan. 1 is an understandable one, for once putting the safety of athletes ahead of the bottom line, that doesn’t make it any easier to digest for football players denied, at least momentarily, the chance to pursue their passion.

For Pac-12 basketball players, however, there is a glimmer of hope.

This past week, the Pac-12 Hotline produced by the San Jose Mercury News reported that the Pac-12 might be willing to back off its Jan. 1 competitive re-start date, at least for basketball, if certain coronavirus standards are trending in the right direction. Also this week, CBS Sports reported the NCAA is considering three separate delayed start dates to the college basketball season.

In short: If the NCAA moves the start of the basketball season closer to December, there is a reasonable chance the Pac-12 will remain part of the party.

From this corner last week I supported the Pac-12’s decision to postpone fall sports until at least Jan. 1. Nothing has changed there. Given the huge financial stakes — the Pac-12 endured a substantial wave of layoffs and furloughs throughout the league office and network division this week — postponing the football season was the last thing anyone wanted to do. Yet given the concern of the spread of the coronavirus and the uncertainty regarding potential long-term heart issues in those afflicted by COVID-19, erring on the side of caution was a decision difficult to condemn.

Yet it’s not a mutually exclusive notion to also think the league jumped the gun on basketball.

The willingness of the Pac-12 to at least reconsider its stance on the basketball season is an encouraging one for the men’s and women’s teams at CU. For coach Tad Boyle’s men’s program, it is an enticing little carrot to have dangling before them after having a likely NCAA Tournament appearance canceled in March, and then being left to wonder when they might be allowed to compete again when the Pac-12 became the first conference outside the Ivy League to compromise its 2020-21 basketball schedule.

“The reason that college athletics exist is for the players,” Boyle recently told BuffZone. “ Whether you’re a basketball player or a football player or a track athlete or a tennis player or golf. It doesn’t matter. We have to find a way to make it happen for the kids. Not for ourselves. Not for administrators, not for coaches. For the kids. I can’t speak for every team, but our team wants to play. Our team has worked hard. They had last year’s NCAA Tournament taken away from them. They’re ready to play. They want to do it safely.”

If the NCAA ultimately targets one of the three preferred late start dates reported by CBS Sports — Nov. 20, Nov. 25, or Dec. 1 — the Pac-12 could still jump on board, particularly if one of the later dates becomes the target date.

Even if a later start date is established, it still doesn’t mean the Buffs will play the schedule they had been expecting. It could still remain a conference-only season, with perhaps more than the allotted 20-game league schedule. But if nonconference games remain part of the equation, the Buffs’ two biggest home games of the early slate — against Colorado State and Kansas — might still see the light of day.

Here’s hoping the Pac-12 agrees to a delayed late November-early December start to basketball. First and foremost to allow the league’s furloughed employees to get back to work. And then for the rest of us to have something to look forward to.