As expected, the Pac-12 announced Friday that it will shift to a conference-only format for several fall sports because of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision by the league’s CEO Group came one day after the Big Ten made a similar move.
The announcement impacts at least four sports: football, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer. Arizona’s football team had been scheduled to open the 2020 season on Aug. 29 against Hawaii. That game has been canceled, along with a home game against Portland State on Sept. 5 and a road game against Texas Tech on Sept. 19.
The Pac-12 also announced that is delaying the start of mandatory athletic activities “until a series of health and safety indicators, which have recently trended in a negative direction, provide sufficient positive data to enable a move to a second phase of return-to-play activities.”
Arizona had been eyeing a July 31 start for training camp, with a ramp-up in activities commencing next Friday. It’s unclear at this time when the revised ’20 season would kick off or how many games each team would play.
Pac-12 teams typically play nine conference games. Ten games — enabling an even home-road split — is said to be the favored alternative within the league. In that case, the existing Pac-12 schedule likely would be scrapped and replaced by an entirely new slate. The league said details on conference-only schedules would be announced no later than the end of this month.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports continues to be our No. 1 priority,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who himself has tested positive for COVID-19 (see below). “Our decisions have and will be guided by science and data, and, based upon the trends and indicators over the past days, it has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities.”
Added Michael Schill, Oregon president and Pac-12 CEO Group Chair: “Competitive sports are an integral part of the educational experience for our student-athletes, and we will do everything that we can to support them in achieving their dreams while at the same time ensuring that their health and safety is at the forefront.”
The Pac-12 did not state as much, but part of the thinking behind going to a conference-only schedule is that universal standards for COVID-19 testing and other safety protocols can be more easily implemented.
The league did state that any student-athletes who choose not to participate in sports during the coming academic year “because of safety concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarships honored by their university and will remain in good standing with their team.”
Arizona began voluntary on-campus workouts for football players on June 15. Two weeks later, the school halted the reentry process because of a surge of cases in Pima County and throughout the state.
The Pac-12 CEO Group said Friday that it “hopes to play football and all other fall sports provided that it can meet the health and safety needs of its student-athletes and obtain appropriate permissions from state and local health authorities.”
The Pac-12 and Big Ten make up two of college football’s so-called Power Five conferences. The ACC reportedly will become the next league to move to a conference-only schedule. The ACC announced Thursday that none of its Olympic sports would start before Sept. 1.
Several start dates for football have been discussed in the Pac-12, including early September, late September, early October or even later.
Pac-12 officials also have talked about a two-on, one-off scheduling format in which teams would play for two weeks, have a bye and repeat that pattern throughout the season. That would give the league increased flexibility to account for unforeseen circumstances such as teamwide outbreaks.
The Wildcats were scheduled to open Pac-12 play on Sept. 12 against Stanford. The teams they’d miss this year as part of the league’s standard schedule rotation are Cal and Washington State.
Arizona opened last season at Hawaii and was scheduled to again face the Rainbow Warriors in a “Week Zero” matchup. The game, one of only seven originally scheduled for Aug. 29, would have given the UA program valuable national exposure.
Portland State was to have received a sizable payout - $550,000 - for playing at Arizona Stadium on Sept. 5. It’s unknown how those contractual arrangements will be resolved across the sport.
The Texas Tech matchup in Lubbock on Sept. 19 had been the back half of a home-and-home after the Red Raiders visited Tucson last season.
The first opening for a non-conference game in Arizona’s future schedules comes in 2024. However, existing deals can be broken, and much remains uncertain about college football — and all NCAA sports — as the pandemic continues to upend American society.
Several Pac-12 schools stand to lose rivalry games as a result of the league’s decision. They include USC (Notre Dame), Colorado (Colorado State) and Utah (BYU).
Said Utah athletic director Mark Harlan: "While we support the Pac-12 Conference's decision today … we are disappointed for our student-athletes, coaches and fans. We know it is particularly difficult to miss the rivalry matchups with BYU in these sports, and we look forward to continuing those as soon as we are able.
“These are truly unprecedented times, and we are working diligently to determine appropriate solutions while prioritizing the health and safety of everyone involved. … We will work with our colleagues at each of the non-conference institutions impacted by today's decision to reschedule those contests, and we will provide more information about our schedules and our home events when they become available."
BYU, an independent, has lost five games over the past two days. Hawaii, which plays in the Mountain West Conference, has lost four, including a previously canceled game against Fordham.
Contact sports content producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or email@example.com. On Twitter @justinesports
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!