The Pac-12 Conference 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 pandemic.
With the conference having secured daily COVID-19 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 moratorium on athletic competition they previously put in place through Jan. 1.
The Mountain West Conference, home of Utah State, announced late Thursday that it would also attempt a fall football season to begin Oct. 24. An eight-game conference schedule, subject to state and county approvals, would play out from then until a conference championship game scheduled for Dec. 19.
The conference said it would release more details today.
The Pac-12 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.
“Our players have done a great job staying focused over the course of the past several months and have worked extremely hard through all of the uncertainty,” Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement from the school. “We’re excited that we’ve been given the go-ahead to play football this fall and look forward to getting the season underway.”
A major college football season that six weeks ago seemed to be in peril, slowly crumbling away, is reforming and has a chance to be almost whole by November. The Big Ten reversed course last week, 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 FBS league to postpone, is also reconsidering playing in the fall.
The Southeastern Conference begins play this weekend, joining the Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference and three others that have been up and running for weeks.
The season is ongoing but it has been anything but normal. There have been 21 games postponed or canceled since Aug. 26 because of teams battling various levels of COVID-19-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.
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 a high-risk contact with someone who has tested positive.
When the Pac-12 postponed on Aug. 11, its medical advisors had recommended daily testing for athletes to safely compete at most of the conference’s schools because of high rates of community spread of the virus.
“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.”
The Pac-12 said its decision to restart sports is subject to approval from state and local public health officials.
Daily testing helped the Pac-12 convince state and local officials in California and Oregon to lift restrictions that have made it impossible for teams to prepare for a football season.
There is still work to be done on that front, now in Colorado. Due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, Boulder County officials Thursday halted gatherings for college-aged residents for two weeks.
No fans will be permitted at Pac-12 sporting events taking place on campus until at least Jan. 1, 2021, the conference said.
The decision to lift the Jan. 1 moratorium means men’s and women’s basketball programs can begin camp on Oct. 14 for a Nov. 25 start to the season along with the rest of the NCAA.
“It’s a big day for our basketball program, fans and league as a whole. Our team has been working tirelessly at home during this whole pandemic and I couldn’t be more proud of the hard work they’ve put in,” Utah head men’s basketball Larry Krystkowiak said in a statement. “There hasn’t been a lot of good news since this whole thing started back in March, so this is definitely a win for everyone involved. I know the staff and our players are thrilled and eager to hit the court full swing and get ready for the upcoming season.”