Momentum had been building for about a week for the Big Ten to vote to have football return this fall, and that’s exactly what happened yesterday. In an equally unsurprising turn, it looks like the Pac-12 is also heading in that direction, and now could begin play as soon as Halloween.
We say unsurprising because there was and is absolutely no way the Pac-12 was going to be left all alone on an island as the only Power 5 conference not playing football this fall; you’ll note the Pac-12 postponed its fall season until at least January 1 shortly after the Big Ten did the same.
But the ground has shifted underneath the two conferences. Postponing the fall season until the spring seemed like a palatable idea to most people at the time, but now that the SEC, Big 12, and ACC are playing — not to mention a slew of Group of 5 schools — and now that testing capacity has increased (thanks to a rapid response antigen test), stakeholders within the Big Ten and Pac-12 have gotten restless, particularly in the midwest, where parents of players held a well-covered rally calling for a return to play.
That will now happen on October 24 for the Big Ten, barring any further setbacks. But as we noted earlier this week, the situation in the Pac-12 was a lot more complicated. And, again, I say “was” because in a totally (not) shocking twist, things changed rapidly yesterday for the Pac-12 after the Big Ten’s announcement.
The day started with everyone lamenting the Pac-12 couldn’t quickly follow the Big Ten because of state-level restrictions on group gatherings — such as full-team practices — that had been placed on the schools within California and Oregon were prohibitive for a return to competition. In California, the state mandated that no more than 12 individuals gather at the same time.
Then, sometime later, California governor Gavin Newsom came out with a muddled statement that asserted, hey, we’re not not restricting anything.
Here are Gov. Newsom's full comments related to the Pac-12, which leave a lot of questions unanswered. pic.twitter.com/3V3CHrgwjX— Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) September 16, 2020
To which everyone responded ... huh? Then, to muddle things even further, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News spoke with someone in California government who clearly has no idea how football works. Their suggestion for working around the restrictions? Five on five, practice against air, or use VR. (No, for real — they suggested VR as a work around.) Just no 11-on-11.
Dear goodness. That’s not very realistic!
Later on, the first hurdle to the conference’s return was cleared when Oregon’s governor Kate Brown came out and said hey, no problem in my state.
Breaking from Gov. Kate Brown's spokesman Charles Boyle: pic.twitter.com/crkLSPf6cJ— James Crepea (@JamesCrepea) September 16, 2020
Which brought us back to California. Shortly thereafter, Newsom announced that he, too, would delegate authority for decisions on college football to local health authorities.
Sources: After speaking to #Pac12 commish Larry Scott, Newsom’s office reached out to #USC officials. Plan is to fast track revision to controversial 12-person cohort max. That shifts focus to local health, an easier hurdle for the schools. This is big.— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) September 16, 2020
And when USC’s and UCLA’s got together to zoom with Los Angeles County officials, that path was quickly cleared. An agreement hasn’t yet been reached between Stanford and Cal and their county, but it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t happen soon.
Those all were major — MAJOR, no sarcasm — hurdles. But all of this hinges on the arrival of the Pac-12’s rapid response antigen tests, which aren’t scheduled to get to schools until the end of this month, which put the conference on a timeline for a mid-November return.
That was considered the best-case scenario. Again, the past tense verb is the key here.
Since that’s clearly too late for participation in the College Football Playoff, you will be SHOCKED to find out that the timeline is now being revised up to as early as Halloween — just one week after the Big Ten returns — which would allow for six games plus a conference championship on the current CFP timeline. Would that be enough to get a team in the CFP? Nobody knows! But we can think of about half a dozen unsurprising scenarios where the CFP gets pushed back and the Pac-12 is able to schedule another game or two.
The big issue is when practices in the conference will be allowed to resume. Medical professionals say the teams need at least four full weeks to prepare for a season, and the tests arriving at the end of the month won’t allow for a Halloween start. But if you’re wondering how Halloween became the target date ... well the schools would have to begin practicing before those tests arrive in order for that to happen. Do they know something they’re not saying? Given everything that happened yesterday, don’t be shocked when they announce that they’ve figured out a way to do that, too.
It might happen as soon as tomorrow!
Source: #Pac12 CEOs meeting Friday and all football and basketball calendar issues will be on the table. Vote not necessary to move forward. Any decisions subject to lifting of county restrictions.— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) September 16, 2020
For what it’s worth, it seems pretty unlikely that you’ll be able to attend Washington State Cougars games; part of the Big Ten’s announcement is that no fans will be allowed at any games. I’d expect the Pac-12 to set up a similar agreement, given the inequities within the conference footprint on that front. But you should be able to clear out Halloween for a 7 p.m. kickoff. You’ll be available since you won’t be trick or treating ... right?
Oh, and one other bit of news: The NCAA says the basketball season will start on Nov. 25. Of course, that doesn’t supersede any local restrictions.
What a bat-bleep crazy day. If you’d like to see how it unfolded in real time, I suggest going to Wilner’s Twitter timeline to view the twists and turns. He’s been at the forefront of all of this for some time.
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