The Pac-12 will play a seven-game conference football season beginning Nov. 6, the league announced Thursday.
The decision, voted on by the Pac-12’s CEO group Thursday, represents an official reversal after the conference announced in early August that it would postpone all sports until at least Jan. 1, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a release, the Pac-12 said men’s and women’s basketball can begin Nov. 25 while other winter sports can begin in line with their respective NCAA seasons.
The Pac-12 move comes in the wake of a similar announcement last week from the Big Ten, which will start its football season Oct. 24.
It is unclear when the Pac-12 will release its schedule of games, but a source told ESPN that the conference championship game will be played Dec. 18, a weekend that all 12 teams will be in action.
The conference is scheduled to have an 8 p.m. ET conference call Thursday to discuss the decision to play.
The Pac-12 has not received an indication it would be ineligible for the College Football Playoff due to its reduced schedule, sources said. Even if the Pac-12 doesn’t have a team worthy for inclusion in the four-team field, the eligibility component is important so it can be in position to collect the sizable payout. Last season, there was a $66 million base payout to each of the Power 5 conferences.
In August, the Pac-12 CEO group, which includes a president or chancellor from each university, voted unanimously to postpone the season. The explanation for the postponement included the need for daily rapid turnaround tests for COVID-19. At the time, there wasn’t a belief that would be possible during the fall.
However, that changed less than a month later when the conference reached an agreement with a company to provide FDA-approved daily tests that are expected to be operational in early October.
The conference faced additional pressure after the ACC, Big 12 and SEC remained set on playing in the fall. There was a common belief in the Pac-12, sources said, that after the Big Ten postponed its season, the other Power 5 conferences would eventually do the same. When that didn’t happen and the Big Ten faced significant pressure to — and eventually did — change course, the Pac-12 was left to find a way not to be the only Power 5 conference idle in the fall.
After the Big Ten’s announcement last week, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott quickly pointed to governmental restrictions in California and Oregon that prevented the six schools in those states from practicing. By the end of the day, governors from both states publicly indicated that nothing at the state level would prevent the Pac-12 season from taking place.
California’s interim guidelines for college sports prevent teams from practicing in cohorts larger than 12 people, which isn’t practical for a sport that requires 22 players on the field in a scrimmage situation. As of Thursday afternoon, the California Department of Public Health issued a statement to ESPN that it was not aware of any changes to the guidelines. But a source told ESPN that the conference is confident the cohort guideline will be amended in time to allow for a normal practice to occur.
Santa Clara County, where Stanford is located, required the school to submit a safety plan before it would give the team the go-ahead to practice. That plan, according to the county, has been submitted and is under review.
The latest hurdle the conference faced arrived Thursday when the County of Boulder, Colorado, issued a prohibition on gatherings among university students between 18 and 22 years old. Assuming the order doesn’t get extended and the Buffaloes can begin practice after 14 days, it would give the team four weeks to prepare for the opener.
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