Larry Scott

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Images

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

4 Comments

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.

‘Game-changer’: Rapid, daily virus testing coming to Pac-12

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

The Pac-12 could be playing football and basketball sooner than expected after the conference announced Thursday that each of the 12 schools will soon have the capacity to perform daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott called the deal with Quidel Corporation a “game-changer.”

He said the ability to test athletes every day and receive results in 15 minutes could lead to the Pac-12 getting back in the game before the Jan. 1 date set by the conference’s university presidents when they postponed the fall sports season on Aug. 11.

“This is a very important and significant step, but there are other considerations that will go into our return-to-play plans,” Scott said.

The Pac-12’s six schools in California and Oregon are still restricted from holding full practices because of state mandates to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. However, the professional football teams in California have been given permission to proceed with normal preparations for a season that starts Sept. 13.

“Even if we were ready to start tomorrow we couldn’t,” Scott said. “There’s more to be done for sure in terms of working with health officials.”

The Pac-12 said tests and Quidel’s Sofia 2 testing machines are expected to be delivered to the conference’s schools by late September. The machines can perform what is known as a point-of-care antigen test.

Doug Bryant, president and CEO of Quidel Corporation, said the company has agreements with several schools that are already using its rapid tests. He declined to say which schools, and added the partnership with the Pac-12 is different from its other deals because the company will be providing the conference with the capacity for daily COVID-19 testing.

“Within the last month, we have doubled our shipping capacity,” Bryant said. “As we continue to ramp up production, we will have the ability to help other conferences if asked.”

Back in August, when the Pac-12 postponed its season, its medical advisors had recommended the frequency of testing athletes be dictated by the seven-day rate of positive tests and daily new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the counties where each school is located.

At the time, that meant Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, Southern California and UCLA would all have needed to test athletes daily. Several other schools would have been required to test every other day.

Scott said when the conference made its decision to postpone fall sports it did not think it would have access to this kind of rapid testing until November at the earliest.

The conferences forging ahead with football starting this month – including the Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference – have indicated they plan to test their football players three times per week.

“Having the opportunity and ability to identify and immediately remove someone who has the potential to be infected prior to stepping on the practice field really reduces the risk and removes the gap that currently exists with traditional laboratory testing,” said Dr. Doug Aukerman from Oregon State. He leads the Pac-12’s medical advisory committee.

A Jan. 1 return to competition could also put the Pac-12 behind the rest of the country in basketball. Basketball season typically starts in early November, but Scott said the NCAA is looking into delaying until November or early December.

Rapid, daily testing improves the Pac-12’s chances of starting on time.

“So I’m very optimistic that we’ll have a season,” Washington basketball coach Mike Hopkins said. “I think we definitely will, especially with the way that this testing and this partnership is moved forward.”

The Big Ten postponed fall sports the same day as the Pac-12. While the Big Ten has been getting crushed with criticism from all sides, including a lawsuit by Nebraska players demanding its decision be overturned, the Pac-12 has presented a a unified front in support of postponing.

Scott said he considers it a “high priority” for the Pac-12 and Big Ten, Rose Bowl partners, to align their return to football. The Big Ten has discussed plans for starting a football season as early as Thanksgiving weekend, though the conference has been more focused on an early January start.

“Not only, for our student athletes, could we have a Pac-12 championship game and champion, but it’d be awesome to have some of the traditional postseason opportunities the Pac-12 and Big Ten have enjoyed with each other over many, many decades,” Scott said.