The decision, voted on by the Pac-12's CEO group on Thursday, represents an official reversal after the conference announced in early August it would postpone all sports until at least Jan. 1, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
"This has been the result of what we said back in August -- that we'd follow the science, follow the data, follow the advice from our medical experts," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said, "and that we know how badly our student-athletes want to compete, as student-athletes for the Pac-12, but that we would only do so when we felt that we could do so safely."
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.
Every Pac-12 team will play the five opponents in its division, plus a divisional crossover game, prior to the Dec. 18 conference championship game. The teams that do not qualify for the title game will play an additional conference game against a squad from the opposite division the same weekend. The Pac-12 will release its full schedule of games in the next few days, the conference said.
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 of 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.
"Our schools, knowing we're going to be able to play a meaningful number of games, high-level games, with our championship concluding before that final CFP meeting, we absolutely have the opportunity to have a team in the mix for the playoff," Scott said, "and I know our teams and our student-athletes are coming back, eager to compete for that."
Scott said there is no serious momentum for an expanded playoff field.
No fans will be allowed to attend Pac-12 games taking place on campuses. That decision will be revisited in January, the conference said.
In August, the Pac-12's 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 daily tests approved by the Food and Drug Administration that are expected to be operational in early October.
Along with daily antigen testing, athletes will take at least one polymerase chain reaction (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 change course, and eventually did, 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, Scott quickly pointed to governmental restrictions in California and Oregon that prevented the six Pac-12 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.
"We've received comfort and clarifications that are very, very helpful, in terms of the confidence to move forward," Scott said. "But there's still some exact details to work out on a school-by-school basis, which will be done locally."
California's 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 has 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.
Pac-12 to return with 7-game season in November
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