Pac-12 Football: Play in the Fall or Not at All
The Pac-12’s options for a football season in 2020-21 are simple now, and can be summed up in one nifty slogan: Play in the fall or not at all.
If the Pac-12 schools still believe it is unsafe to play football in the fall because of COVID-19 concerns, it should not play a football game until next fall.
If California and/or Oregon health officials still believe it is unwise to clear college teams to have training camps in the near future, the Pac-12 should not play a football game until next fall.
If the Pac-12 presidents wait much longer to decide whether to play in the fall, they should not play a football game until next fall.
Otherwise, play a fall season starting in October or, at the latest, early November. And Pac-12 presidents may approve a fall schedule as soon as Friday.
The Pac-12 cannot go it alone in the winter or spring.
With the Big Ten's decision to have a fall football season, the Pac-12 is the only Power Five conference that has not decided to play in the fall. And playing a conference-only schedule in the winter or spring without a parallel season by the Big Ten would be silly. It would be little more than organized scrimmages with no crowds and no prize at the end.
The opportunity to qualify for the College Football Playoff would be gone. Many of the best players would opt out to prepare for the NFL draft. The Pac-12 would be adrift in a vacant college football season that, for all intents and purposes, would already be over.
A face-saving, money-making winter or spring Pac-12 football season would be ridiculed, with the Pac-12 being seen as a conference that just doesn’t care that much about college football.
Some may consider that a compliment -- that the conference or the West Coast has its long-term priorities in order and cares more about the health of millions than a handful of college football games.
But college football fans would ask why the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams can play home games during the first weekend of the NFL season but Pac-12 teams can’t play football in the fall.
And based on this Wednesday morning's statement from Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson, it appears the Mountain West might change its mind and play in the fall, leaving the Pac-12 on an even lonelier island if it played in the winter or spring:
Multiple subgroups within the Conference are working daily on solutions to the existing challenges in order to facilitate a return to play for Mountain West football, and other Conference sport programs, at the earliest possible opportunity. This includes finalizing a plan for frequent, rapid response testing and continuing to monitor the status of public health directives in our MW states and communities.
So the Pac-12 must play in the fall or not at all.
The health restrictions put in place by the states of Oregon and California are major barriers.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has said he believes the new testing system now in place might allow the conference to play football games as soon as November. And his message to the San Jose Mercury-News’ Jon Wilner sounds encouraging:
“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 California and Oregon to begin contact practice and competition. We are equally closely monitoring the devastating fires and air quality in our region at this time. We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public health authority approvals.”
More significant perhaps is the statement from California governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday that the state's COVID-19 guidelines would not prevent Pac-12 teams from playing games. That's a potential game-changer.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown made a similar statement, and Scott sees these comments as a positive sign:
The Pac-12 probably could proceed with a fall season of eight games without all 12 members, but if the group does not include the Oregon Ducks or USC, the presumed giants of the conference, the season would be virtually meaningless.
Furthermore, teams need adequate time to prepare to play a game. Cal, for example, is still doing voluntary workouts, and has not started a regular training camp because of the restrictions of Alameda County and the City of Berkeley.
Squads would need at least four weeks of training camp to be ready to play a game, so restrictions would need to be eased soon.
So what does the Pac-12 need to proceed?
Testing concerns must be satisfied.
State and local health restrictions must be eased sufficiently.
Pac-12 presidents must approve a fall season, and the conference must put together a fall schedule.
There would be other incidentals to take care of too, such as whether players such as Cal conerback Camryn Bynum, who has announced he will opt out of a 2020-21 football season to prepare for the NFL draft, would change his minds if there is fall football. And would Bynum or other Pac-12 football players who have opted out of the season be allowed to compete in the fall if they have already hired an agent?
It may take a few days or weeks for all that to be digested and acted upon, but it must happen pretty soon for teams to be ready to play a game by late October.
The belief here is that the Pac-12 will put together a fall season and begin play in late October with at least eight teams.
The mantra stays the same: Play in the fall or not at all.
Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53
Find Cal Sports Report on Facebook by searching: @si.calsportsreport
Click the "follow" button in the top right corner to join the conversation on Cal Sports Report on SI. Access and comment on featured stories and start your own conversations and post external links on our community page.