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Pac-12 delays football decision to Thursday

Conference commissioner Larry Scott: Early return of football ‘promising’

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – NOVEMBER 9, 2019: University of Colorado’s Alex Fontenot looks for yardage against Stanford during the November 9, 2019 game in Boulder. (photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is optimistic about the early return to football, but the conference CEO group is not quite ready to make that decision.

Scott met with the Pac-12 CEO group – school presidents and chancellors – on Friday afternoon, but there was no resolution on whether or not the conference will return to football earlier than the Jan. 1 plan announced last month.

On Friday evening, the group issued this statement:

“The Pac-12 CEO Group had an informative and productive meeting earlier today. We plan to reconvene this coming Thursday, September 24 to make a decision regarding possible return to play prior to January 1. The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports will continue to be our number one priority in all of our decision making.”

On Aug. 11, the Big Ten and Pac-12 both announced decisions to postpone their fall sports seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the Pac-12 putting all sports competition on hold until at least Jan. 1.

Their Power 5 conference peers – ACC, Big 12 and SEC – have continued to practice and play. Teams in the ACC and Big 12 started playing last week and the SEC is set to kick off next week.

The Big Ten reversed course on Wednesday and announced a plan to open its season Oct. 23-24. At risk of being left on the sidelines alone, the Pac-12 is also considering the early return.

Scott was a guest on the Dan Patrick Show on Friday morning and said, “At this stage, it’s promising” that the conference would bring football back this fall. Also part of the discussion is an earlier return for basketball after the NCAA announced teams can begin the season Nov. 25.

“We’re going to take stock of where we are and see if we’re comfortable with a path forward before Jan. 1, which was what our previous decision was,” Scott said of Friday’s meeting. “I’m not expecting a vote today; I’m not going to push for one today. We need to give folks that lead our campuses a chance to digest all of this and take into account everything going on on their campuses.”

Enough has changed since the Pac-12’s Aug. 11 decision to postpone competition, however, that there is a belief that football could return soon. Optimism is growing around the conference, including at Colorado.

Although unable to have full-contact workouts, CU practiced in helmets and shoulder pads Thursday. Afterward, head coach Karl Dorrell retweeted pictures of the practice and wrote, “Getting closer!”

On Friday, CU offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini tweeted, “The Buffaloes are coming!! Can feel it getting closer!! #LetsPlay”

Earlier this month, the Pac-12 announced a partnership with Quidel Corporation, which will provide each conference school with daily, rapid-results COVID-19 testing. Scott said Friday that those tests, which he has called a “game changer,” should be delivered next week.

Not long after the Big Ten announcement on Wednesday, the wheels were put in motion for Pac-12 teams in California and Oregon to get approval from public health officials to practice and play.

“Our medical advisory committee is much more comfortable with us going forward and it looks like the hurdles have been cleared in terms of the public health authorities in the states of California and Oregon, so things are looking a lot more promising,” Scott said on the Dan Patrick Show. “It’s amazing how much has happened in the last five weeks since we made our decision.”

While the Los Angeles schools – UCLA and USC – have cleared the hurdles, the Bay Area schools have not. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News reported Friday that Cal and Stanford are working on getting clearance for full-contact practices.

Wilner reported that Stanford needs to submit a safety plan proposal to the Santa Clara County public health department and that Cal is working on having restrictions on cohort size lifted in Berkeley.

Various reports have said the Pac-12 is looking at potentially starting its football season Oct. 31 or Nov. 7. Scott said Oct. 31 might be a “week or two too quick for us, but somewhere in that zip code is where we’d be playing if we’re playing.”

Scott added that if the Pac-12 is going to play football this fall, “we have to decide by next week.”

Although Scott is optimistic, the presidents and chancellors will make the final decision.

“We’ve overcome the major obstacles that we had and the criteria that our medical advisors set with the public health authority approvals,” he said. “But our presidents and chancellors have to weigh the issues on their campuses. They’ll be the ultimate decision makers. But, in terms of the metrics and the issues we talked about in mid-August, the reasons why we weren’t going forward, we’ve made tremendous progress and have overcome those things.”

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases are surging at CU and on other campuses, and while other conferences have started playing, it hasn’t been a smooth ride.

On Friday, Baylor and Houston postponed their game for Saturday. That matchup was set just six days ago after Houston’s date with Memphis was canceled. Too many positive tests among a certain position group caused Baylor to postpone. Baylor had a game postponed last week because of COVID-19 cases at Louisiana Tech.

COVID-19 outbreaks at Florida Atlantic caused its game with Georgia Southern to be postponed, as well, on Friday. According to CBS Sports, 15 games have been canceled or postponed so far this season.

Scott said the challenges associated with the pandemic make it difficult to predict whether a shortened Pac-12 season could preclude the conference from being in the discussion for the College Football Playoff.

“I don’t think if you ask any of my fellow commissioners they can tell how many games their teams are going to play,” Scott said. “They know what they’re going got try to play, but we’ve already seen in the first two weeks every league that’s tried to play has had to postpone games, so no one is feeling supremely confident at this point, especially those that don’t have daily tests, that all their teams are going to play every game.”

Despite the challenges, the Pac-12 is still considering a return to play.

“(The players and coaches) want to play and we owe them that if we can do it,” Scott said.