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The Sports Report: Pressure shifts to Pac-12 after Big Ten decides to play fall football

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott
(D. Ross Cameron / Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

J. Brady McCollough on Pac-12 football: For now, the Pac-12 remains alone among Power Five conferences in having chosen to sit out its fall football season. But, as a wild Wednesday unfolded, the league’s situation appeared to be changing by the minute, resulting in renewed hope the West Coast won’t be left behind.

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The day began with the Big Ten Conference — the Pac-12’s companion in coronavirus caution — announcing that the league had decided to reverse course and play an eight-game schedule starting Oct. 24 weekend.

In response, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott released a statement that summed up his league’s pandemic plight: “At this time, our universities in California and Oregon do not have approval from state or local public health officials to start contact practice. We are hopeful that our new daily testing capability can help satisfy public health official approvals in [those states] to begin contact practice and competition.”

Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 guidelines for higher education in regard to college athletics defer to the state’s measures, which limit workouts to cohorts of 12.

Later Wednesday afternoon at a news briefing, Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the state guidelines’ impact on the Pac-12, saying, “Now, this manifests very differently depending on the sport. Basketball, cohorting of up to 12, may be a little easier than football up to 12. But offensive teams, defensive teams are able to coordinate and practice, and the like. And so I want to make this crystal clear, nothing in the state guidelines deny the ability for the Pac-12 to resume. Quite the contrary. That has been a misrepresentation of the facts.”

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Twenty-two players are needed on the field in close proximity to practice or play a football game. Newsom and Scott spoke Wednesday, and, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversation, the governor told Scott he was committed to working through any issues relating to cohort size due in part to the efforts the Pac-12 had made to secure a daily antigen testing program.

Later, Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, sent a statement about the matter, saying, “Representatives from the University of Oregon and Oregon State University athletic departments met with the Oregon Health Authority this afternoon to discuss their COVID-19 health and safety plans for their football teams. The universities have asked for an exemption to OHA’s sports guidance, just as Oregon’s professional sports teams have been given. We have granted that request, and, under the new guidance, OHA must receive written plans for approval.

“Let me stress that, up to this point, we have received no written operating procedures for approval from the Pac-12 for the upcoming season under the new guidance, and we have no details from the conference about their new rapid testing proposal. Until we have those details, we can’t move forward in the process.”

By day’s end, Scott was confident enough in what he heard from the governors to issue a fresh statement, oozing with optimism.

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“The Pac-12 welcomes today’s statements … that state public health officials will allow for contact practice and return to competition, and that there are no state restrictions on our ability to play sports in light of our adherence to strict health and safety protocols and stringent testing requirements,” Scott said.

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LAKERS

Tania Ganguli on the Lakers: As the NBA bubble crystallized and teams began committing to going, the Lakers had two players who hesitated to join the team in Orlando, Fla. The first was Avery Bradley, who opted to stay home. The second was Dwight Howard, who eventually decided he would go into the bubble.

But it wasn’t a decision made lightly, nor was it one without consequences.

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“There’s nowhere to go, there’s no way to release anything,” Howard said. “Any feeling that you might have, it’s just like we’re stuck. So, just try to find joy in the fact that I have my son with me, the fact that all we have to do is win eight games to win a championship. … That is very difficult, seeing the same walls every day.”

In June, Howard first expressed his doubts about being away from his family and friends for so long. He had spent the hiatus in Georgia with his children, one of whom lost his mother in March. Melissa Rios, the mother of Howard’s 6-year-old son, died because of complications from epilepsy. It made leaving home all the more difficult.

His son joined him in the bubble recently. When asked if he’d thought about leaving the bubble since being here, Howard avoided the question.

“The biggest thing is just observing everything that’s going on around me,” Howard said. “Everything that’s going on around the NBA, our team, and around the world. So I’ll speak about some of the things at a later date. But right now, the focus is on us winning this championship, and what I can do to help this team win. Obviously, coming in, I felt like, ‘don’t do anything that would be a distraction.’ But at the present time, I’ll save those comments to a later date.”

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Distractions are hard to come by for Howard in the bubble, and for the last two weeks, the basketball court has also not allowed for much distraction from reality. Coach Frank Vogel used Howard and fellow center JaVale McGee rarely against the Houston Rockets, who don’t play a center to match up against them. Howard played in only two of the five games the Lakers played against the Rockets for a total of 15 minutes and 39 seconds.

“It was extremely hard, but I know that my teammates still needed me no matter if I played 10 minutes or no minutes, just bringing energy,” Howard said. “So I just try to bottle up all the negative energy and try to turn it into something positive when I step on the court or in the locker room or on the bench cheering for my teammates. It’s very difficult when you’re not playing sometimes —or it’s very easy to sulk and be upset and try to find ways to blame everybody else, but I just thought a lot of positive things.”

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
All times Pacific
No. 1 Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver

Game 1: Friday, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 2: Sunday, 4:30 p.m., TNT
Game 3: Tuesday, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 4: Thursday, Sept. 24, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 5*: Saturday, Sept. 26, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 6*: Monday, Sept. 28, TBD, TNT
Game 7*: Wed., Sept. 30, TBD, TNT

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DODGERS

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: The announcement Wednesday morning set off alarms: Brusdar Graterol, not Dustin May, would start for the Dodgers in the series finale against the San Diego Padres. May was scheduled to make his first appearance since taking a groundball off his left foot last week. It was a scare, but tests showed the foot wasn’t broken. He was supposedly ready to go.

And he was. The Dodgers just decided they were going to treat Wednesday like an experiment for October, not like the big game between clubs vying for a division title down the stretch with a chance to clinch a postseason berth that it should’ve been because Major League Baseball’s playoff format indirectly diminished the result’s importance.

Instead, the Dodgers had Graterol serve as an opener and used May later in the game. On the other side, the Padres unleashed a stream of pitchers to slow the highly anticipated matinee to a crawl.

Ultimately, the Dodgers won the battle of the bullpens 7-5 to win the series, increase their lead in the National League West to 3 1/2 games and secure a playoff berth for the eighth straight season. The magic number to clinch the NL West title is six with 10 games remaining.

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“I thought it was a good series to win,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I didn’t know that [we clinched], but that’s the first step.”

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on college basketball: The college basketball season will open Nov. 25, with or without UCLA and USC.

The NCAA’s Division I council on Wednesday approved that start date, but it remained unclear whether teams such as the Bruins and Trojans that face stiffer government health restrictions than many of their Pac-12 Conference counterparts would be cleared to play by that time.

Pac-12 teams are expected to acquire rapid daily testing for COVID-19 before the end of September, potentially allowing them to move up the Jan. 1 timeline that was previously established as the earliest date that any conference team could play. UCLA and USC also must receive government clearance to practice indoors and commence full-contact practices before they can begin preparations for the season.

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Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced Wednesday that California Gov. Gavin Newsom had lifted state restrictions on practices and games, shifting the burden for clearance onto county health officials.

ANGELS

Mike DiGiovanna on the Angels: His head was still. His hands were quiet. His body was upright, sturdy and balanced. His leg kick and toe tap were on time.

All the required components of a lethal Shohei Ohtani swing came together in perfect harmony in an Aug. 23 game at Oakland, the Angels slugger driving a Frankie Montas fastball 439 feet to left-center field for a three-run homer.

“My timing has been off,” the left-handed-hitting Ohtani said through an interpreter that day, but on the homer, “it all started to come together.”

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Then it all fell apart. Ohtani has been unable to repeat that swing consistently, and his mechanics are so out of whack that he hit .204 (10 for 49) with a .572 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, no homers and six RBIs in his next 16 games.

Ohtani did not start Wednesday night against Arizona, the fourth straight game he was not in the lineup, though opposing left-handers started three of the games. With Diamondbacks left-hander Alex Young pitching Thursday, Ohtani will probably be on the bench again.

“Quite frankly, he’s not swinging the bat well, and you could actually get even worse by facing some guys now that would make it even more difficult for him,” manager Joe Maddon said. “So, back off, let him regroup a little bit.”

NBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

CONFERENCE FINALS
EASTERN CONFERENCE

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No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Miami 117, Boston 114 (OT)
Game 2: Today, 4 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 4: Monday, TBD, ESPN
Game 5*: Wednesday, TBD, ESPN
Game 6*: Friday, Sept. 25, TBD, ESPN
Game 7*: Sunday, Sept. 27, TBD, ESPN

*-if necessary

NHL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

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All Times Pacific
Conference finals

Eastern Conference
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 NY Islanders

Game 1: Tampa Bay 8, NY Islanders 2
Game 2: Tampa Bay 2, NY Islanders 1
Game 3: NY Islanders 5, Tampa Bay 3
Game 4: Tampa Bay 4, NY Islanders 1
Game 5: NY Islanders 2, Tampa Bay 1 (2 OT)
Game 6: Today, 5 p.m., NBCSN
Game 7*: Saturday, 4:30 p.m., NBC

Western Conference
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars

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Game 1: Dallas 1, Vegas 0
Game 2: Vegas 3, Dallas 0
Game 3: Dallas 3, Vegas 2 (OT)
Game 4: Dallas 2, Vegas 1
Game 5: Dallas 3, Vegas 2 (OT)

*-if necessary

WNBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

Second Round, single elimination

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Today
No. 4 Minnesota Lynx vs. No. 5 Phoenix Mercury, 4 p.m., ESPN2
No. 3 Sparks vs. No. 7 Connecticut Sun, 6 p.m., ESPN2

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific.

Dodgers at Colorado, 5:30 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Arizona at Angels, 1 p.m., FSW, KLAA 830

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Sparks vs. Connecticut, 6 p.m., ESPN2

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1920 — The forerunner of the NFL, the American Professional Football Association, is founded in an automobile showroom in Canton, Ohio. Twelve teams pay a $100 fee to obtain a franchise.

1938 — Don Budge completes the grand slam of tennis with a four-set victory over Gene Mako in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association championships.

1954 — Rocky Marciano knocks out Ezzard Charles in the eighth round at the Yankee Stadium in New York to retain his world heavyweight title.

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1955 — In the first color telecast of a football game by NBC, No. 10 Georgia Tech posts a 14-6 win over No. 9 Miami in Atlanta. The Ramblin’ Wreck’s winning score comes in the final minute when linebacker Jimmy Morris returns an interception 25 yards for a touchdown.

1966 — In his head coaching debut, coach Joe Paterno leads Penn State past Maryland 15-7. The Nittany Lions hold on as Terrapins back up quarterback Phil Petry throws an incomplete pass on fourth down from the Penn State one-yard line in the fourth quarter.

1967 — Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts passes for 401 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-31 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

1988 — Colorado’s Alfred Williams leads the Buffaloes to a 24-21 win over No. 19 Iowa, in Iowa City. Williams gets seven tackles, four for losses including two sacks, a forced fumble, a recovery, a pass deflection and a blocked punt in the win. Williams’ forced fumble late in the fourth quarter ends the Hawkeyes late charge.

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1988 — No. 10 Florida State upsets No. 3 Clemson 24-21 in Clemson, S.C. With the game tied at 21 with 1:31 to play, FSU coach Bobby Bowden calls for a fake punt from his own 21-yard line. Cornerback LeRoy Butler takes the fake 76 yards, setting up Richie Andrews’ game-winning 19-yard field goal with 32 seconds left.

1994 — UNLV wide receiver Randy Gatewood catches 23 passes for 363 yards and a touchdown in a 48-38 loss to Idaho.

2002 — Suzy Whaley becomes the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event, earning an exemption to the 2003 Greater Hartford Open by winning a PGA Section Championship. Whaley, also is the first woman to win a Section Championship.

2004 — San Francisco’s Barry Bonds hits the 700th home run of his career, joining Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755) as the only players to reach the milestone.

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2006 — Paul Casey turns in a record-setting performance to win the World Match Play Championship. Casey completes a dominating week by winning the last five holes for a 10-and-8 victory over Shaun Micheel, the largest margin of the championship match in the 43-year history of this tournament.

2016 — Cam Pedersen kicks a 37-yard field as time expired and North Dakota State, of the FCS, rallies to beat No. 13 Iowa 23-21 for its sixth straight win over an FBS opponent. The loss is the fourth by a ranked FBS team to an FCS school. North Dakota State has won the last five FCS national titles.

2016 — Curtis Granderson hits a solo home run with two outs in the 12th inning after also connecting for a tying shot in the 11th, lifting the New York Mets to a 3-2 12-inning victory and into a tie for the NL wild-card lead.

And finally

In the movie “42", Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) reacts after getting spiked at first base. Watch it here.

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Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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