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.

San Diego State to play football next year in suburban LA

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
5 Comments

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.

Air Force will play Army, Navy this season

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

The Air Force Falcons will play two football games this season against fellow service academies Army and Navy.

The Falcons’ abbreviated schedule includes hosting Navy on Oct. 3 and a trip to West Point, New York, to face Army on Nov. 7. The military academies compete annually for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which goes to the academy with the best record in the round-robin competition.

The school announced Monday that only Air Force Academy cadets would be permitted to attend the game at Falcon Stadium due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They will social distance and wear masks. The base remains closed to the public.

“It’s certainly going to be a different game. It’s not going to look the same. It’s not going to feel the same,” Air Force director of athletics Nathan Pine said in a video posted on the school’s website. “But we’re going to have an opportunity to play Navy and that’s really important for the young men in our football program and really important for the physical mission at the academy. It’s something that is every bit worth the effort.”

Navy currently has possession of the trophy after beating both schools last season.

Air Force was in a holding pattern after its conference, the Mountain West, decided in August to postpone fall sports due to COVID-19 concerns. The team has been practicing since Aug. 24 in compliance with protocols.

No. 22 Army is off to a 2-0 start after beating Middle Tennessee State and Louisiana-Monroe. The Black Knights have 12 games listed on their schedule, but the contest against BYU has been postponed. The school’s athletic director took to Twitter in an effort to find a replacement.

Navy lost 55-3 to BYU on Sept. 7. The Midshipmen have 11 games listed, including Army on Dec. 12.

Last season, Air Force finished 11-2, which included a loss to Navy and a win over Army. The Falcons beat Washington State in the Cheez-It Bowl as they closed the season with an eight-game winning streak. It was their longest since 1998.

Coach Troy Calhoun returns a strong nucleus that includes inside linebacker Demonte Meeks, along with offensive linemen Parker Ferguson and Nolan Laufenberg. They were all named to the preseason all-Mountain West team.

The team plans to unveil a new uniform for the Navy game. The theme will be based around the Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first African American unit to fly combat airplanes in World War II.

“The Red Tails and the Tuskegee Airmen are a great piece of Air Force heritage,” Pine said.