Pac-12 chooses to play only conference football games in fall because of coronavirus

A day after the Big Ten announced its schools would play only against one another if there is a football season this fall, the Pac-12 followed suit late Friday afternoon, making its decision after a meeting of the conference’s CEO Group.

As the spread of the coronavirus rises across the country, the Pac-12 specified it still hopes to play football and the other fall sports but that they would have to be approved by state and local health authorities.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports continues to be our number one priority,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “Our decisions have and will be guided by science and data, and based upon the trends and indicators over the past days, it has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule, and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities.”

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Not long after this announcement, the Pac-12 released more news from its Twitter account that underscored the severity of the pandemic for all involved: Scott has tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing “mild, flu-like symptoms.”

“As a result he is self-quarantining at the direction of his physician,” the statement read. “Commissioner Scott is continuing to carry on his duties remotely as normal.”

There will be no shortage of work for Scott during his quarantine. The hope is that Friday’s call to cancel previously scheduled nonconference games will at least make whatever challenges lie ahead simpler to navigate.

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The Big Ten’s move already cost the Pac-12 two of its highest-profile games in Michigan at Washington (Sept. 5) and Ohio State at Oregon (Sept. 12). Now, USC fans dreaming of starting the season with a win over Alabama and finishing it with a victory over rival Notre Dame can begin regionalizing their aspirations for the 2020 campaign.

The Trojans’ matchup with the Irish has been waged every season since 1946, prior to which it had only been halted for World War II. The opener against Alabama, while not so steeped in tradition, could’ve been a crucial measuring stick. At the very least, it could’ve been a financial windfall.

USC athletic director Mike Bohn reached out to athletic directors at Alabama, Notre Dame and New Mexico on Friday to inform them of the conference’s decision. As of Friday, Bohn said, there was no additional information to share as to how the Trojans’ schedule might look come September.

“Confronted with an unprecedented global pandemic, in going to a conference-only schedule for fall sports in 2020, the Pac-12 Conference is acting responsibly on behalf of the health and safety of all of our student-athletes, coaches and staff, while trying to do everything possible so we can compete this year,” Bohn said in a statement.

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There are no guarantees college football will be played at all this autumn. The Ivy League announced it would stage no fall sports competitions Wednesday.

No Football Bowl Subdivision conference has been willing to go that far. With these decisions, the Big Ten and Pac-12 have bought themselves more time and will have more creative license in figuring out a way to complete a season of some kind.

The Pac-12 also announced that it is delaying the start of mandatory athletic activities — which the NCAA had said could begin as early as Monday — and pushing back the start of the season in the affected sports, which include men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

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“UCLA fully supports today’s decision by the Pac-12 CEO Group to play the start of mandatory athletic activities and to limit fall seasons for several sports to conference-only competition,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement. “The health and safety of our student-athletes, staff and fans is paramount, and this move affords us the greatest level of flexibility to adapt and evolve in real time, in the midst of a very fluid situation.”

The Pac-12 said that athletes’ scholarship agreements will be upheld even if players elect not to compete this year because of the pandemic.

The league said details on the new fall sports schedules will be announced by July 31.

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Staff writer Ryan Kartje contributed to this article.

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