The Pac-12 announced Aug. 11 that it would consider returning to sports after the calendar flipped to 2021. However, a series of developments last week and then this Wednesday opened the door for the league to join the Big Ten in returning to the field earlier than expected.
Leaders in California and Oregon moved to ease state health restrictions on Wednesday that would have otherwise prevented six of the league’s 12 teams from practicing. Citing a source, ESPN’s Heather Dinich reported that the Pac-12 could return to play as early as late October if county officials in the location of each program ease restrictions to allow teams to practice.
CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd is hearing from Pac-12 sources that early November is likely a more achievable date for the league. However, efforts will be made for late October start considering the firm date of the final College Football Playoff Rankings of the season on Dec. 20.
That late-October would potentially match the Pac-12 up with the Big Ten, which announced on Wednesday that it will begin its football season the weekend of Oct. 24.
Despite being the first Power Five league to announce a plan for daily rapid COVID-19 testing, the Pac-12 has faced more hurdles in returning to play than its Power Five cohorts. Some of them began to fall Wednesday as the governors of California and Oregon made statements clearing the way for programs in both states to return to practice.
Some programs also need local health clearances as well, and two in the same county received it late Wednesday as USC athletic director Mike Bohn and UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond spoke to Los Angeles County health officials and were encouraged that they would be able to practice when the Pac-12 scheduled a return to play, according to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News.
Their efforts came after Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott released a statement earlier Wednesday saying the league “welcomes” the statements from the California and Oregon governors clearing the way for contact practice. Scott also suggested that universities would quickly reach out to local health authorities.
“We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public health authority approvals,” Scott said.
If the Pac-12 receives the necessary clearances to begin practice in time for a late October start to the football season, it could restore a sense of normalcy to the 2020 college football slate after it initially appeared that only three of the Power Five conferences would be playing this fall.
The 14-team Big Ten is fitting in eight regular-season games before holding its conference title game (and six other consolation games) on Dec. 19. The Pac-12 has two fewer members and could fit in eight games if it starts Oct. 24 or seven games if it starts Oct. 31.