The Pac-12 approved a 10-game, conference-only fall schedule for football to begin on Sept. 26, with "a lot of built in flexibility," the conference announced Friday.
Each team will play five home and five road games, and the Pac-12 championship will now be played Dec. 18 or 19. The conference title game will be held in a home-hosted model for 2020, not at the NFL's new stadium in Las Vegas, as was planned. The Pac-12 and partners Allegiant Stadium and the Raiders, Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) and MGM Resorts International instead agreed to begin hosting the championship game at Allegiant Stadium in 2021 for its two-year run in Las Vegas.
Games that can't be played on their scheduled dates can be made up in their bye weeks or in Week 12 (Dec. 12).
The Pac-12 and Big Ten both announced on July 10 that they would play a conference-only schedule, but Friday was the first time the Pac-12 announced the specifics of it.
While the Big Ten and Big 12 have yet to announce their plans, Friday marked the third straight day this week that a Power 5 conference made drastic changes to its fall football schedule -- all with the caveat that it might not happen at all as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact college athletics. The ACC on Wednesday announced an 11-game model that includes Notre Dame, and the SEC followed on Thursday with its move to a conference-only schedule.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott conceded it "may not be possible" to play even a 10-game schedule by Dec. 19 -- or that the spring might be needed to finish it.
"The same thing may happen in other markets," he said. "... We recognize that the best-laid plans may not come to fruition, whether being able to start on the 26th, play a complement of a minimum number of games we feel would be required for a College Football Playoff, and we may start but not be able to finish, and then we will have to adjust. We'll have to adjust with a spring piece, either to finish or to start, maybe delay dates for a playoff if it's still possible. There are many, many scenarios still on the table, but we felt it's critical at this point to be able to give some clarity in our plan."
When asked Friday what his confidence level in this season is, Scott answered, "I don't know." As Major League Baseball continues to struggle with schedule-halting outbreaks, Scott said he was expecting the same this fall in college football.
"There is no bubble and a bubble would not be appropriate for college sports, and for our campuses," Scott told reporters on a media webinar Friday afternoon. "These are students, and they're not going to be able to be quarantined or isolated in a bubble, the same way pro sports do. ... It's one of the reasons why building in flexibility to the schedule is so important. If there is an outbreak on the team, we're going in expecting that's a real possibility. And if that happens, especially with 14-day quarantine periods currently for anyone that's a close contact, that will require the rescheduling of a game.
"And so we've got two opportunities for each team to potentially reschedule, or delay the start. We realize there are some markets that don't have the requisite rules at the moment to start on time. We need to make sure they've got safe and robust training camps to be able to play on time. If a team can't start on time, we've got the bye week to reschedule ... either into the bye week or this Dec. 10 week that we have."
With its delayed start, and the coronavirus still surging in its geographic footprint, the Pac-12 will enter the "enhanced summer access" period as early as Aug. 3, followed by the start of its official training camp as early as Aug. 17. (The official NCAA-approved practice schedule this year started the 20-hour enhanced period on July 24, and summer camp can officially begin on Aug. 7 for any teams still opening on Labor Day weekend).
USC and UCLA said in a joint statement the schools were pleased with the Pac-12's plan.
"We understand the great interest in the 90th edition of our historic football rivalry game, currently scheduled for Sept. 26 at the Rose Bowl," the joint statement said. "Though we are progressing toward the start of our respective seasons, at this time we do not have the necessary county and state clearances to begin competitions. Developing a scheduling model for the fall sports season that provides optimal flexibility was an important next step in the process.
"In particular, our football schedules create the opportunity for us to shift our season-opening contest to open dates later in the season (Oct. 31 and Dec. 12), if necessary. UCLA and USC are in absolute alignment, and we remain in regular communication with state, local, and university officials. We will continue to follow their guidance with the utmost regard for the health and safety of our student-athletes."
Dr. Doug Aukerman, Oregon State's senior associate athletic director, said it was difficult to determine a number of positive cases that would trigger a game being canceled.
"You can't just say, 'It's a certain number of players,'" he said. "Because if you get a couple infections and they're coming from different sources, and they're occurring a day or two before the game, maybe you don't really have control of the transmission of the virus in that instance, and you need to take a pause. Is it a couple cases early in the week and they're both related and you can contact-trace back to where they were, that's a much safer environment and situation. So it's hard to come up with an easy, quick number. If it was, everybody in every conference would have already had that."
Not all Pac-12 schools have been cleared to start even the enhanced access period, which is mainly strength and conditioning, film review and walk-throughs.
"We've been talking about this for five months, so we will have a plan based on what we're allowed to do, based on our local medical and government officials," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We'll find a way to make it work. There are things that we can do now that we couldn't do two weeks ago, and hopefully a couple weeks from now there will be things we can do that we can't do now."
The new schedule features rivals Arizona at Arizona State and USC at UCLA in the first week instead of the traditional end to the regular season.
"We realize at the moment, those are real hot spots, and the requisite authorities and approvals are not there yet," Scott said of the states of Arizona and California. "By putting them the first week, in the event that these teams in each of those two markets winds up not being possible, they become very easy to reschedule. Each of those could reschedule into the bye week on the calendar a few weeks later, or the December week that we left. We're going in eyes wide open."