The 2020 Pac-12 football schedule is set — at least for now.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Pac-12 decided earlier this month to eliminate non-conference games for several fall sports, including football. On Friday afternoon, the conference CEO Group released an updated schedule where each team will play a 10-game, conference-only slate beginning Sept. 26.
The Huskies, who were supposed to start the season with a much-anticipated game against Michigan on Sept. 5, will now open against Stanford at Husky Stadium. They will close the regular season at USC on Dec. 5, marking the first time the season won’t end against Washington State (Nov. 27) since 2008.
But what’s the level of optimism that the 2020 season will actually happen?
“I don’t know,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott admitted during a media webinar on Friday. “I think we are all trying to take a step at a time. We are cautiously optimistic sitting here today. … There are elements outside of our control that are going to have a lot of influence on that question.
“What’s happening in our communities? What’s happening in our campuses? A lot of that’s got to do with mask wearing, social distancing. What happens when thousands of students come back to our campus? None of us have the answer to that question.”
Scott said the conference felt an obligation to student-athletes to attempt to hold a season. He added that a bubble — like the one created for the NBA and WNBA — wouldn’t be appropriate for college athletics.
The Pac-12 designed the schedule to maximize flexibility. Each team will play five home games and five road games, and the conference is prepared to push back the start of the season to a later date if necessary. Games that are unable to be played on scheduled dates can be made up during bye weeks or in Week 12 (Dec. 12).
Scott said it’s possible some teams may play less than 10 games this season if all postponements can’t be made up on open dates.
The conference is still working to determine the level of infection that would require a game to be postponed or canceled, although Oregon State associate athletic director for sports medicine Doug Aukerman said it wouldn’t have to be widespread.
“We as a medical advisory group are trying to come up with some very specific criteria,” Aukerman said during the webinar. “You can’t just say it’s a certain number of players because if you get a couple infections and they’re occurring within 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.”
The Pac-12 championship will now be played on Dec. 18 or 19 and will be home-hosted. The move to Las Vegas for the beginning of a two-year run will be delayed until 2021.
“Today’s conference-only football schedule release and fall Olympic sport update from the Pac-12 are another positive step forward as we continue to put plans together for competition this fall,” UW athletic director Jen Cohen said in a statement. “We believe a delayed start to the season gives us the best opportunity to play this fall and recognize these models are contingent upon approval from public health officials and our medical teams.
“We are grateful to the Pac-12 Medical Advisory Committee, along with the Pac-12 CEO’s for their diligent and detailed work that has kept the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans as the top priority. We acknowledge we still have many challenges and unknowns ahead, but will continue to make decisions that reflect these priorities. Husky Nation has been absolutely incredible during this entire process, and we are so grateful for their unwavering support. We will continue to provide updates on the fall as they become available.”
As of right now, Scott said the decision whether or not to allow fans in stadiums will be left up to local public health authorities and will not be determined by the conference.
“We could have differences in the conference, but we’re comfortable with that,” Scott said.
The Pac-12 CEO Group also approved a move to 20 hours of summer access mandatory activities beginning as early as Aug. 3. Those activities include strength and conditioning, team meetings and walkthroughs. Training camp can commence as early as Aug. 17. Both dates are subject to allowance by public health orders and medical advice.
Scott said it will be up to coaches to decide when to start training camp and how to manage their 25 allotted practices.
“If schools can’t start then and can’t get a safe on-ramp and preparation for the season, then we will reevaluate, like everything about this,” Scott said. “We will reevaluate along the way.”
Conference-only scheduling plans were also approved for men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s cross country, with competition to start no earlier than the weekend of Sept. 26. The first permissible date of practice will be Aug. 15.