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Game on? Pac-12 officials could vote Friday to start football season

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott speaks at a news conference.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will be among those looking for answers as to when the conference can start playing football again this year.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Just a few days ago, it seemed as if the meeting of Pac-12 presidents and chancellors scheduled for Friday would amount to little more than another opportunity to commiserate about a lost fall sports season.

Now there’s a chance they could have something to celebrate.

Recent developments including the acquisition of rapid daily testing for COVID-19 and the approval of full-contact football practices could clear the way for conference leaders to vote on potential season start dates or at least agree in principle to resume sports that had been previously pushed back to 2021.

To be sure, any decisions won’t be as easy as yea or nay.

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The rapid testing isn’t scheduled to be in place on campuses before the end of this month, potentially delaying the start of practices until then. There remain concerns about viral transmission leading to an increased risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart. And even with USC and UCLA gaining assurances Wednesday night from public health officials who said they wouldn’t stand in the way of football practices, Stanford and California face more stringent local restrictions.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declares there’s nothing in the state’s coronavirus guidelines that’s stopping the Pac-12 from playing football.

Hazardous air quality could be another obstacle given the raging wildfires in Oregon and California that have forced some teams to curtail workouts over the last week and show no sign of abating.

There’s also the matter of how much time is needed once practices start. Some teams have been lifting inside their weight rooms for months while others have had to conduct modified outdoor workouts, leading to varying degrees of readiness. One USC assistant coach said Thursday that the Trojans would need six weeks before being ready to play.

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A season that started on Halloween, considered by some as a wildly optimistic scenario, could include as many as seven games before a conference championship on Dec. 19. Any bye week added to the schedule would reduce the number of games and the likelihood of the conference champion taking part in the College Football Playoff, which will have its participants revealed on Dec. 20.

CFP executive director Bill Hancock said in an email that there have been no conversations about changing either the bracket release date or dates for the national semifinals or national championship but that the organization would follow whatever protocol is established by the management committee.

The Big Ten Conference ensured its potential inclusion in the CFP on Wednesday by announcing an eight-game schedule that’s slated to start the weekend of Oct. 24.

That announcement spurred a flurry of activity, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifting the state health restrictions that had barred four Pac-12 teams from staging traditional 11-on-11 practices while deferring to local health authorities on safety protocols.

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The need to seek clarity on those local guidelines sparked a collaboration between USC athletic director Mike Bohn and an unusual ally in Martin Jarmond, his UCLA counterpart. The athletic directors simultaneously spoke with Los Angeles County health officials who said they would not prevent their respective teams from holding full football practices.

Bohn and Jarmond declined to comment Thursday, but the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health released a statement saying that college sports could proceed if they satisfied state and NCAA requirements.

One person close to the UCLA football team said he expected players could lift weights indoors by Monday at the latest after having previously been forced to conduct all workouts outdoors.

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Conference officials must also consider the concerns of the #WeAreUnited movement that arose before the season was postponed. One player involved with the movement who spoke on condition of anonymity said safety issues persisted amid a possible hurried start to the season and that the Pac-12 shouldn’t mindlessly follow the Big Ten.

“We are simply not in the same situation,” the player said. “The sentiment that players don’t have a real voice in decisions that have so much stake in their lives has been brutally exemplified with this pandemic. It’s a very unfortunate situation, and leadership has been very poor due to conflicting interests, in my opinion.”

Football isn’t the only topic that the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors are expected to discuss Friday. They’ll also consider an accelerated start date for their men’s and women’s basketball teams, whose seasons initially had been pushed back to at least Jan. 1 when the conference announced it was postponing fall sports. That timeline could be moved up considerably after the NCAA on Thursday announced the basketball season could start on Nov. 25 and recommended that teams play at least four nonconference games.

Times staff writers Ryan Kartje and J. Brady McCollough contributed to this report.


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