The Pac-12 set a Nov. 6 start date Thursday for a seven-game football season, following the Big Ten in overturning an August decision to postpone until spring because of concerns about playing through the coronavirus pandemic.
With the conference having secured daily virus testing for its athletes and having been given the green light from some state and local health officials in California and Oregon, the Pac-12 university presidents voted unanimously to lift a Jan. 1 moratorium on athletic competition.
“The discussion among the presidents and chancellors was largely about the benefits as well as the cons of starting in the fall versus starting in January,” University of Oregon president Michael Schill said. "The consensus opinion was the benefits of starting in the fall were much greater than the benefits of starting in the … winter.
“Things changed from the first time we addressed this issue. … We are acting in the students' best interest. We waited until we were able to if not ensure, protect their health and safety.”
When the Pac-12 postponed the fall seasons Aug. 11, its medical advisors had recommended daily testing for athletes because of high rates of community spread of the virus in most of the counties where schools are located. Those rates have improved in most Pac-12 counties, but not all.
“If this is not sustainable, we will stop playing,” Schill.
The Pac-12 said men’s and women’s basketball seasons can start Nov. 25, in line with the NCAA’s recently announced opening date. The football championship game is set for Dec. 18 — along with other cross-division games that weekend — putting the conference in play for College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six Bowl selection.
But the Pac-12 said its decision to restart sports is subject to approval from state and local public health officials.
In Colorado, officials in Boulder County, home of the University of Colorado, on Thursday halted gatherings for college-aged residents for two weeks due to a recent spike in virus cases.
“We’ll continue to work with our public health officials to comply with the public health order and be a part of the community solution,” Colorado athletic director Rick George said. “The one thing I’ve learned in this pandemic is don’t get too high and don’t get too low.”
No fans will be permitted at Pac-12 sporting events taking place on campus, the conference said.
The Big Ten reversed course last week on postponing its football season, with kickoff scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 24. The Mountain West presidents were meeting Thursday night to discuss a possible late October start to the football season, and the Mid-American Conference, the first Division I-A league to postpone, is also reconsidering playing in the fall.
The SEC begins play this weekend, joining the Big 12, ACC and three other conferences that have been up and running for weeks.
There have been 21 games postponed or canceled since Aug. 26 because of teams having virus-related issues. This week, four games scheduled to be played Saturday have been called off, including Notre Dame at Wake Forest because of a virus outbreak among Fighting Irish players.
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The turning point for the return of fall sports for the Pac-12 came this month when it entered an agreement with a diagnostic testing company that will give each school the capability to conduct daily antigen tests on their athletes.
Daily testing should also decrease the number of athletes who end up in quarantine after coming into what would be considered high-risk contact with someone who has tested positive.
“From the beginning of this crisis, our focus has been on following the science, data and counsel of our public health and infectious disease experts,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “Our agreement with Quidel to provide daily rapid-results testing has been a game-changer in enabling us to move forward with confidence that we can create a safe environment for our student-athletes while giving them the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”
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