NCAA

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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.

San Diego State to play football next year in suburban LA

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State will play its football games during the spring and fall 2021 seasons at a suburban Los Angeles soccer stadium and will raze 70,000-seat SDCCU Stadium earlier than planned to expedite construction of its new 35,000-seat venue.

The Aztecs announced Tuesday that they will play at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson until moving into their $310 million stadium for the 2022 season. The Aztecs broke ground on their new home last month after closing a deal with the city to purchase the Mission Valley stadium site for a campus expansion.

Dignity Health Sports Park is the 27,000-seat MLS stadium where the NFL’s Chargers played for three seasons after leaving San Diego because they couldn’t get a deal for a new stadium to replace the aging SDCCU Stadium, formerly known as Qualcomm Stadium and Jack Murphy Stadium. The Chargers moved into $5 billion Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, which was built by Rams owner Stan Kroenke.

Before COVID-19 forced the Mountain West Conference to postpone the 2020 season to next spring, the Aztecs were scheduled to play two more seasons at SDCCU Stadium. Athletic director John David Wicker said the Aztecs had hoped to play one more season there, but with the coronavirus pandemic interrupting schedules, decided to move up demolition of SDCCU Stadium to the first quarter of 2021.

Wicker said there is no other stadium in San Diego consistently available to host Division I football.

“Again, it’s a short-term thing,” Wicker said. “We are San Diego State University. We are going to be here forever. We’re excited that we are building a football stadium in San Diego. … We are part of this community. We’re just going to run up the road for a little bit to play football and then we’re going to come back and we’re going to open a phenomenal stadium and continue developing a campus that is great for San Diego.”

The multipurpose SDCCU Stadium opened in 1967 as San Diego Stadium and hosted the Chargers, baseball’s Padres, SDSU and the Holiday Bowl. The Padres moved to Petco Park downtown in 2004 and the Chargers left for LA after the 2016 season.

The stadium hosted three Super Bowls, two World Series, and many concerts and other events. The Rolling Stones were scheduled to open their 2020 tour there on May 8 before it was postponed due to the pandemic.

Rather than imploding SDCCU Stadium, Wicker said the concrete will be ground up and reused as a base for the new stadium.

Many fans expressed dismay on social media that they wouldn’t get to see another game at the stadium. SDSU hopes to sell seats and other memorabilia to fans, but likely won’t be able to host a farewell event amid the pandemic, Wicker said.

Big Ten on hold until questions answered

Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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The University of Wisconsin chancellor said Tuesday that Big Ten football will remain on hold until there are answers to questions about COVID-19 testing and tracing, along with possible long-term heart issues related to the coronavirus.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank said once the Big Ten university leaders have their concerns addressed “we will try to plan a delayed season.”

A month after postponing games, conference leaders are considering playing a fall season after all. There were weekend meetings on a plan to begin play as soon as mid-October.

Blank, appearing at a congressional hearing on compensation for college athletes, was asked by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) about the Big Ten’s decision last month and whether the conference might reverse course.

“There were several main reasons for that,” Blank said. “One was that we were uncertain we could do the level of testing and contact tracing that we needed to keep athletes safe. Secondly, there was this growing evidence about heart-related myocarditis and that evidence was uncertain and it wasn’t clear what it means and we wanted to know more. There were a few other minor reasons.”

She would not predict which way a vote to return to play would go.

“Decisions within the Big Ten are largely majority based decisions, but I’ll be honest, we almost always decide everything by consensus. We very rarely take votes,” Blank said.

A court filing earlier this month disclosed that Big Ten presidents and chancellors voted 11-3 in favor of postponing all fall sports. Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio State voted against the move.

When the next decision comes from the Big Ten was unclear, though KETV in Omaha posted video Tuesday of University of Nebraska President Ted Carter saying, “We’re getting ready to announce the Huskers and Big Ten football tonight,” before he spoke at an unrelated news conference.

Carter later told KLKN in Lincoln that statement was taken out of context.

“When there is any news to share or confirm regarding any Big Ten board decision, it will be announced by the Big Ten,” University of Nebraska spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke said.