The Pac 12 conference is the first to release its official attempt at a 2020 college football schedule. The conference had already announced that it would be a conference only schedule with 10 games for each team. But Friday the official schedules were released during an hour-long conference call with commissioner Larry Scott. There were also representatives from the coaching angle, the medical teams, and the athletic directors.
Pac 12 Football Tries To Schedule A Season
The conference is allowing teams to go to official strength and conditioning workouts on campus August 3rd. They will be allowed 20 hours per week.
Practices can start as early as August 16, with a first game on September 26th. The schools will still have the usual 25 allowable practice dates. They are free to start later than August 17th if they want.
Each team will have an official bye week as well as a second open date. The purposes are to give every school the flexibility to move games if COVID-19 circumstances on the ground mandate. One part of the schedule jumps out right away. Two major rivalry games are scheduled for week one. USC-UCLA and Arizona State-Arizona will play right away instead of at the traditional end of the season. Scott said the conference did that because those two locations are the hottest of the virus hot spots on the conference’s map. Putting them first allows the flexibility to move them to an open date if need be and keep the rivalry games in play.
Immediately after the press event, UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond and USC athletic director Mike Bohn issued a joint statement on the proposed season opener. They said they were pleased that the scheduling process was done. But being ready for week one is a different issue.
“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.”
The goal is to have 10 games in the books for everyone by early December. That would allow for a conference championship game December 18th or 19th. The conference had a contractual agreement with Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas for the conference championship. Scott said both sides agreed to push that contract out for one year. The conference championship will be a home field game for one team this season.
There will not be a conference-wide decision on having fans at games. Scott said that will be up to each team in consultation with their city and county officials.
The Importance Of The Schedule
Stanford head coach David Shaw said one of the more frustrating things of the last few months was not having answers for players and their families as to what would happen going forward. “Putting a schedule together now, we can start having more of those answers for when we start training camp and what the next few weeks are like.”
Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson called the efforts to come up with the plan, “Exhaustive.”
“The fluid nature of this COVID-19 situation has put us all in a position where for the most part, day in and day out, we didn’t have control, Anderson said.” He believes getting to the schedule gives the schools comfort that they will be flexible in making changes as needed going forward.
The Medical Side
Dr. Doug Auckerman is the head of sports medicine for Oregon State. He said every team’s medical staff was consulted through the weeks in coming to decisions on schedules, testing protocols, and contact tracing.
Schools like LSU and Clemson made headlines in June when they had positive tests for players who had only been on campus for a few days. It meant they likely brought it with them on to campus. Many schools were not testing or contact tracing at the outset. Auckerman says there is now a unified protocol system throughout the conference that is likely more aggressive than localities mandate.
“We have all agreed upon a standard protocol for bringing student-athletes on to campus. It includes a period of self-quarantine and symptom reporting when the athletes come on campus.” Auckerman said all medical staffs at each school will do immediate testing prior to clearing anyone for workouts or practice.
He said the schools will also be doing contact tracing immediately upon notification of a positive test. “One of the real benefits to college athletics is that our medical teams, our athletic trainers, our strength and conditioning coaches, and our team physicians have really good interaction, timely interaction with our student athletes. When someone tests positive, especially since we are the ones ordering the test, we are going to be notified at the same time if not sooner than the health department.” Auckerman said as a result, the contact tracing process will begin sooner than what the county health department would be able to do on its own.
Scott said a bubble, isolating players, like what they are doing in the NBA and NHL is not viable for college sports. The sheer numbers of players and staff make it impossible. All of the conference schools are expecting to have a balance of on-line and in-person academic instruction. So putting athletes only in a bubble for the purposes of playing, does not work. Spring football has been a non-starter.
Accordingly, Scott was realistic about the future. “It’s one of the reasons we are going into this with a lot of humility and recognizing that we’ve got a plan and will follow medical guidance along the way. It’s one of the reasons we are building flexibility into the schedule.” As for a potential COVID outbreak, “We are going in expecting that is a real possibility.” The protocols would then call for immediate isolation and the contact tracing in an attempt at risk minimalization.
As of publication, only the Big XII remains in announcing its plans for Fall sports and college football. Moving forward with a reduced schedule is not to the liking of many fans. But it actually puts teams closer to a plan they might have some chance of pulling off. So, will there be a college football season? Scott said, “I don’t know. I think we are all trying to take a step at a time. We are cautiously optimistic sitting here today. There are elements outside our control that are going to have a lot of influence on that question. None of us has the answer to that question.”