Just a week after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced there are no state restrictions that prohibit a return to college sports, the Pac-12 CEO Group is set to meet with school officials to decide whether or not it will alter its previous commitment to postpone all sports for the rest of the calendar year.
“We plan to reconvene this coming Thursday, September 24 to make a decision regarding possible return to play prior to January 1,” said the Pac-12 CEO Group in a Sept. 18 statement. “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.”
The Pac-12’s plans for the fall 2020 season, while seemingly definitive in August, clearly have changed alongside the landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Big Ten Conference’s Sept. 16 decision to return to play, Newsom’s recent statement about college athletics and an improved COVID-19 testing partnership will all have a significant effect on this week’s Pac-12 vote.
Yet despite plans to vote, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said he isn’t expecting a final decision this week. And that makes sense. After all, if sports return in 2020, there will be an incredibly complex web of interests and needs that each school must meet — especially for football.
In interviews with The Athletic, many unnamed Pac-12 football coaches insisted that after a decision is made, they will need at least eight weeks before their teams are ready to compete. This time frame would put a start date around Nov. 24.
One month of football in 2020 directly scheduled around the holiday season would be a tough task to take on, though not necessarily insurmountable. But a fall football season is logistically complicated beyond the time necessary for teams to return to physical form.
Athletes who have opted out of voluntary practices would need to return to campus and quarantine before returning to the field. Furthermore, while teams may play up to eight games this season upon returning, this is a relatively small number of matchups to be considered for the College Football Playoff, or even an elite bowl game.
The Pac-12’s imminent choice will not come easy. But as it’s the only Power Five conference without a return date set in stone, the college football world will be watching with critical eyes.