SALT LAKE CITY — With players' safety on its mind, the Pac-12 announced in August a postponement of all athletic competitions through the end of the year. But on Thursday, the conference gave the green light for competition to resume — most notably for football, its biggest moneymaker and most popular sport.
Football will resume Nov. 6, and teams can immediately begin a six-week fall camp to prepare for the season. Also returning are men's and women's basketball on Nov. 25, which is when the NCAA approved a return to play for the sport. A schedule for both sports will be released in "the coming days," Pac-12 officials said.
Football will, however, play seven games this season, with each team playing all teams in their division and a cross-division game that will count toward winning a division; the seventh game will be played on championship weekend for teams that are not in the conference championship game. Fans will not be permitted to attend any game that takes place on a Pac-12 campus, the conference noted, but that decision will be reconsidered in January 2021.
"I am so happy for our student-athletes whose sports programs will now be able to return to play with today's decisions by the Pac-12 CEO Group," Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan said in a written statement. "This is an exciting day, and a real boost to the spirits of our entire department and our great fans.
"All our student-athletes and coaches have been working extremely hard to keep themselves prepared for the possibility of competition and they have been so disciplined in their adherence to our health and safety protocols."
In a Zoom call with media, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said he believes a team from the conference should be eligible to qualify for the four-team College Football Playoffs, particularly because there's "no minimum game requirements" to be eligible. He added that the selection committee will need to select the four best teams, which shouldn't change because the Pac-12 will play seven games.
The Pac-12 obtained permission from government officials last week to host athletic competitions in California and Oregon. That approval, as well as securing a partnership with Quidel Corp. for daily testing of the COVID-19 virus, prompted the conference's so-called CEO Group — its 12 member presidents and chancellors group — to meet Friday in what many hoped would be a decision to return.
The conference, though, decided to wait until Thursday to make a return official — more than a week after the Big Ten, the only other Power Five program to previously postpone fall competitions, announced it would begin playing football at the end of October. University of Oregon President Michael Schill said the decision was unanimous from the CEO Group.
"From the beginning of this crisis, our focus has been on following the science, data and counsel of our public health and infectious disease experts," Scott said in a written statement. "Our agreement with Quidel to provide daily rapid-results testing has been a game-changer in enabling us to move forward with confidence that we can create a safe environment for our student-athletes while giving them the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
"At the same time, we will continue to monitor health conditions and data and be ready to adjust as required in the name of the health of all.”
Even with a date set to resume play, Scott said last week there's no guarantee the season will move forward without complications. Already more than 20 Division I games have been postponed this season, and likely more to come, due to COVID-19 concerns.
"If we’re going to play this fall, I don’t think if you ask my fellow commissioners they can tell you how many games they are going to play," Scott told the Dan Patrick Show last week. "No one is feeling supremely confident that all of their teams are going to play every game. It’s going to be uncharted territory."
Complicating the issue Thursday was an order from Boulder County, Colorado, that halted all gatherings for college-aged individuals, including for athletics, for at least two weeks. How that will be worked out for the University of Colorado and its start to the season is still unknown.
The return to play will help supplement already massive budgetary losses to every athletic department in the conference. Harlan explained in August that his department would lose anywhere from $50 million to $60 million. Earlier this month, Harlan announced department-wide furloughs, some layoffs, and a stop to performance bonuses indefinitely.
Schill said the decision to return to play "has nothing to do with money" and that the issue "was never discussed as a consideration." However, a resumption of play in the fall allows the conference to be eligible for money allocated to conferences from bowl games and the College Football Playoffs.
The Pac-12 postponed athletic competition on Aug. 11 after the conference's medical advisory board, which is made up of doctors and other members of the conference, recommended a stop to play. The board cited health concerns related to COVID-19 and the inability to perform daily testing as its main rationale to stop athletic competitions.