Pac-12 to play 7-game schedule starting in Nov.

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  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of Indiana University

The Pac-12 will play a seven-game conference football season beginning Nov. 6, the league announced Thursday.

The decision, voted on by the Pac-12’s CEO group Thursday, represents an official reversal after the conference announced in early August that it would postpone all sports until at least Jan. 1, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a release, the Pac-12 said men’s and women’s basketball can begin Nov. 25 while other winter sports can begin in line with their respective NCAA seasons. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said other fall sports, such as cross country, soccer and volleyball, will continue to plan for a spring season.

The Pac-12 move comes in the wake of a similar announcement last week from the Big Ten, which will start its football season Oct. 24.

The conference championship game will be played Dec. 18, with a source telling ESPN that all 12 teams will be in action that weekend. The Pac-12 will release its full schedule of games in the next few days, the conference said.

No fans will be allowed to attend Pac-12 games taking place on campuses. That decision will be revisited in January, the conference said.

The conference is scheduled to have an 8 p.m. ET conference call Thursday to discuss the decision to play.

The Pac-12 has not received an indication it would be ineligible for the College Football Playoff due to its reduced schedule, sources said. Even if the Pac-12 doesn’t have a team worthy for inclusion in the four-team field, the eligibility component is important so it can be in position to collect the sizable payout. Last season, there was a $66 million base payout to each of the Power 5 conferences.

In August, the Pac-12 CEO group, which includes a president or chancellor from each university, voted unanimously to postpone the season. The explanation for the postponement included the need for daily rapid turnaround tests for COVID-19. At the time, there wasn’t a belief that would be possible during the fall.

However, that changed less than a month later when the conference reached an agreement with a company to provide FDA-approved daily tests that are expected to be operational in early October.

Along with daily antigen testing, athletes will take at least one PCR test per week.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports remains our guiding light and number one priority,” Pac-12 CEO group chair and Oregon president Michael Schill said in a statement. “Our CEO Group has taken a measured and thoughtful approach to today’s decision, including extensive consultation with stakeholders on the evolving information and data related to health and safety.”

The conference faced additional pressure after the ACC, Big 12 and SEC remained set on playing in the fall. There was a common belief in the Pac-12, sources said, that after the Big Ten postponed its season, the other Power 5 conferences would eventually do the same. When that didn’t happen and the Big Ten faced significant pressure to — and eventually did — change course, the Pac-12 was left to find a way not to be the only Power 5 conference idle in the fall.

After the Big Ten’s announcement last week, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott quickly pointed to governmental restrictions in California and Oregon that prevented the six schools in those states from practicing. By the end of the day, governors from both states publicly indicated that nothing at the state level would prevent the Pac-12 season from taking place.

California’s interim guidelines for college sports prevent teams from practicing in cohorts larger than 12 people, which isn’t practical for a sport that requires 22 players on the field in a scrimmage situation. As of Thursday afternoon, the California Department of Public Health issued a statement to ESPN that it was not aware of any changes to the guidelines. But a source told ESPN that the conference is confident the cohort guideline will be amended in time to allow for a normal practice to occur.

“It is a testament to the strength of the leadership in our football locker room and a symbol of the central role USC plays in the Pac-12 that the letter from our players to California Governor Gavin Newsom galvanized our collective return to play efforts,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a statement.

Santa Clara County, where Stanford is located, required the school to submit a safety plan before it would give the team the go-ahead to practice. That plan, according to the county, has been submitted and is under review.

The latest hurdle the conference faced arrived Thursday when the County of Boulder, Colorado, issued a prohibition on gatherings among university students between 18 and 22 years old. Assuming the order doesn’t get extended and the Buffaloes can begin practice after 14 days, the team would have four weeks to prepare for the opener.

“We will work with our public health officials to comply with the new public health order and be part of the community solution in controlling the spiking cases so we can resume team activities as soon as possible,” Colorado athletic director Rick George said during a video conference call Thursday night.

The Pac-12 said teams with health approval can begin practicing immediately.

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