Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA coaches and players call off practices

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Football practice was canceled at Boston College, Kentucky, South Florida, and other schools Thursday, joint decisions made by coaches and players and inspired by NBA players protesting racial injustice.

Baylor players decided to forgo practice to unite around the ongoing events in the country, marching from the athletic complex to Fountain Mall in the heart of the campus in Waco, Texas, to pray.

BC coach Jeff Hafley said instead of hitting the field, the team held meetings to discuss racism in the United States, first as a whole and then in smaller groups.

Some players shared stories about how racism affected them or their families, “how scared they are sometimes, and how emotional they are right now,” said Hafley, who is in his first season as Eagles head coach.

At South Florida, another first-year coach called off practice.

“These are real-life situations that are going on,” Bulls coach Jeff Scott said, choking up. “I think as a coach, you always take pride in being able to fix things for your players. This is one of those situations that, as a coach, you can’t fix for your players.”

The NBA called off its entire schedule Wednesday and Thursday after the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to take the court for a playoff game against the Orlando Magic to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake, who is black, was shot seven times in the back when he leaned into his car. Other sports followed.

The college football season for many teams is still several weeks away, but still the movement spilled onto campuses across the country.

At Baylor, which has first-year coach Dave Aranda, the Big 12 school said in a statement that the team used its practice time to instead have “an open conversation about how to come together as one to unite against social injustice, to discuss practical ways to support hurting teammates, and to take time to pray for God to use the team to create change.”

At Kentucky, players went to the practice field, and then left.

Wildcats defensive end Josh Paschal and guard Luke Fortner met with reporters said the team had the support of coach Mark Stoops.

Paschal said when the players met, a teammate shared a story of family member who had been shot during a traffic stop by the police.

“We know there is an issue with this country and we’re willing to fight for that,” said Paschal, who is Black. “And even though we have teammates that may not look like us, we know that they have our back, too, because, we’re just all a family right here.”

Fortner, who is white, said the players wanted to do more than just tweet hashtags.

“We’re planning on continuing our volunteer service, but with an emphasis on youth and minorities in the community,” Fortner said. “We plan on opening dialogue with the Lexington police and inviting an open conversation. We plan on making this a consistent effort, not something that dies down in just a week.”

Paschal said he hopes fans respect the players for standing up for what they believe, even if they don’t totally agree.

“I feel like this is a human rights issue,” he said. “This is not a political issue or anything like that. I believe that we should all be united in this fight against police brutality and we should all be for it, not half and half or not against us.”

At Western Kentucky, coach Tyson Helton said he called off practice after meeting with players and coaches to discuss current events.

Earlier this summer, college football players and coaches all over the country were notable participants in rallies and marches to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was being detained by police in Minneapolis.

The shooting of Blake has sparked a new round of protests and demonstrations.

“We have a group of people who are hurting, and we have coaches who are hurting. And we have another group of people who are trying to understand,” Hafley said. “We have a group of people who stood up today and said, `I’m sorry I haven’t said anything. I don’t know what to say and I do have empathy, and I do care, and I want to help.’

“And I do believe we had some really great conversations today because things do need to change. There is too much hate and there needs to be more love and it’s sad,” Hafley said. “And I’m very very proud of our football team today.”

Wait a minute: Stars Wade, Davis decide to return to Ohio St

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Two of Ohio State’s biggest stars, cornerback Shaun Wade and guard Wyatt Davis, are opting back in for the 2020 football season.

The preseason All-Americans had decided to leave school to prepare for the NFL draft when it looked as if there would be no football season for the Big Ten. Both are expected to be first-round picks.

They changed their minds after the conference announced on Wednesday that teams would play an nine-game season starting Oct. 23-24.

The news is huge for Ohio State, which behind quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields has the talent to again compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Wade, who had opted out on Monday, announced on ESPN on Thursday that he would return.

“It was a long day yesterday being with family and friends and taking that time to talk to them and really making the right decision for myself, but I’m going to come back and be a Buckeye and really go strive for this national championship,” Wade said.

“Back in January, I didn’t go to the draft and my goal was to come back, be a captain, get my degree,” he said. “They then canceled football, now it’s back, so since it’s back we got a chance to win a national championship. That’s been my goal since day one.”

Wade said he had an agent but did not sign a contract.

Wade last play resulted in his ejection for targeting in the playoff semifinal loss to Clemson in January.

“I can’t go out like that,” he said.

Davis had announced his decision on Twitter Wednesday.

“I want Buckeye Nation to know that I want to play this season for Ohio State and I am working now to make that a reality,” he said.

Davis will anchor an offensive line that includes center Josh Myers and left tackle Thayer Munford, both also NFL prospects.

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Move toward fall football ramps up in Pac-12, Mountain West

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The Pac-12 university presidents and chancellors will meet Friday and be presented options for staging a fall football season, but Commissioner Larry Scott says a vote by the CEO Group is not expected.

“(Friday) is a chance to get everyone caught up on what’s been a very dynamic and rapidly changing series of events over the last 24 to 48 hours,” Scott told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We’ll obviously have to decide soon, but I’m not necessarily expecting a decision (Friday).”

A day after the Big Ten changed course from its decision to postpone fall sports because of the pandemic and set a late October start for football, the Pac-12 appeared headed toward a similar move.

The Mountain West is trying to do the same and there even is some movement in the Mid-American Conference toward reconsidering a fall season.

“The board has asked for a plan,” Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said. That conference’s university presidents next meeting is next week.

Meanwhile, early Thursday, it was announced that another FBS game could not be played because of COVID-19 issues with one of the teams. Charlotte at No. 12 North Carolina scheduled for Saturday had to be canceled because the 49ers did not have enough available offensive linemen.

The Pac-12’s medical concerns about playing through the pandemic have been eased by the conference earlier this month securing rapid, daily COVID-19 testing for all its schools. This week brought more good news. State and local authorities in California and Oregon signaled they would be willing to ease COVID-19-related restrictions that have made it nearly impossible for six Pac-12 teams to prepare for a football season.

There is still work to be done with health officials, but things are moving quickly enough that the Pac-12 is hopeful it could start a season that allows its teams to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The four playoff teams are scheduled to be selected Dec. 20.

“We feel we’ve got a responsibility to our student-athletes and our programs to explore that possibility. So that’s what we’re doing,” Scott said.

The Big Ten’s plan is to start an eight-games-in-eight-weeks regular season the weekend of Oct. 24, with a championship game on Dec. 19.

The San Jose Mercury News reported, citing unidentified sources, that the Pac-12’s athletic directors were targeting Oct. 31 to start football season. Scott declined to confirm the report or go into any details about potential models for a season.

The Pac-12 presidents’ meeting was originally scheduled to address basketball. The NCAA set a Nov. 25 opening date for the season. Scott said for the same reasons there is hope for a fall football season there is optimism the Pac-12 will start basketball season at the same time as the rest of the country.

Thompson, whose league includes three California schools, said he has been in frequent contact with Scott.

The lifting of restrictions in California has been hurdle for the Mountain West to clear, too, but the conference is still trying to catch-up in another pivotal area.

“The real trigger on this is the rapid-result testing,” Thompson told AP. “And that’s the key, if we can get that. We’re talking to a number of manufacturers and providers. That has to be done really before any decisions can concretely be made.”

Thompson said the goal in the Mountain West is also to have a season in place that could wrap up on Dec. 19 and allow its teams to be selected for the playoff and lucrative New Year’s Six bowls.

“You come up with a model and then you move it backwards and forwards depending on where you stand with some of the other issues, particularly testing,” Thompson said.

Another immediate concern for both the Pac-12 and Mountain West is wildfires raging in California and Oregon that have led to unsafe air quality in some areas. The Seattle Mariners had a series this weekend with the San Diego Padres moved to Southern California.

The Mid-American Conference, which was the first FBS league to postpone its fall sports season, indicated earlier in the week it was still focused on a winter/spring season. But some MAC players have followed the lead of their peers in Power Five conferences by pushing for a fall season on social media.

Kent State coach Sean Lewis also called for the conference to revisit the decision to punt on a fall season.

Charlotte-North Carolina became the 14th FBS game postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 since Aug. 26. It would have been the first meeting between the schools.

In its release, Charlotte said there had been three positive cases among football players discovered through regular league-required testing during the past two weeks. Those individuals had been placed in isolation with medical care, while others impacted through contact tracing were told to quarantine for 14 days.

Charlotte didn’t specify exactly how many players were affected and said its home opener with Georgia State on Sept. 26 is still on.

The disruptions are not a deterrent to the other conferences and the Pac-12 in particular does not look as if it is headed toward days of will-they-or-won’t-they speculation that gripped the Big Ten.

Scott would not make predictions about what his bosses will do but the Pac-12 is not operating in secrecy.

“We’ve tried to be very deliberate and very transparent,” Scott said. “The major concerns and obstacles have now been cleared.