“Run it Back” is a column by Lauren Merola about college football.
College football is back.
For the most part, at least.
The ACC, Big 12, SEC, American and Sun Belt leagues have taken the turf. The Big Ten presidents and chancellors unanimously voted Wednesday to return to play in late October, making the Pac-12 the last Power Five conference still sidelined because of COVID-19. And let me tell you, as a USC fan, Saturday was sad.
Not only was watching No. 5 Oklahoma shut out Missouri State 48-0 or No. 14 Texas roll through UTEP 59-3 unexciting, it was a huge reminder that the Cardinal and Gold’s cleats are clean and tucked safely away from contact sport in the Trojan locker room.
On Tuesday, the USC football team sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking him to allow the Trojans to join their fellow college football players in competition.
California and Oregon schools are largely the ones holding the Pac-12 back since public health officials have not yet cleared the states to resume contact practices, let alone games, and Pac-12 leading officials won’t even consider a vote to return until that changes.
The Pac-12 is actively working to implement new safety measures for its student-athletes, most recently with a partnership with Quidel Corporation that will provide daily, rapid COVID-19 testing. The tests will be delivered to each Pac-12 campus by the end of September, giving coaches, athletes and staff members weeks of daily testing before they’d even step onto a field. To compare, the ACC is testing their athletes three times a week and the Big Ten at least twice.
This is what USC sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis meant when he tweeted, “@GavinNewsom we have sat by for two weeks watching teams across the country play the game we love safely. Most schools have a fraction of the resources that our school and conference have provided to play safely. You are the only thing holding us back. Please #LetUsPlay.”
And so I say… let them play.
If the Pac-12 can work with California and Oregon officials to get their players on the field by Oct. 24, then they can fit in an eight-game season, schedule a Pac-12 championship for Dec. 19 and be eligible for the College Football Playoffs.
Offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Graham Harrell responded to Slovis in support, tweeting, “Let’s play ball!”
USC head coach Clay Helton made his support of his players and their desire to play known on Twitter, re-tweeting junior running back Amon-Ra St. Brown and adding, “Proud of these young men.”
The pressure is now on the Pac-12 to figure out a way.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott released a statement Wednesday morning, in response to the Big Ten news, with no new information. Scott said California and Oregon do not have approval from local public health officials to start contact practice and that he hopes the new Quidel partnership will help satisfy public health requirements. We’ve heard it before.
But we haven’t heard it contradicted, which is what Gov. Newsom did in response to Scott’s statement. “There’s nothing in the state guidelines that denies the Pac-12 from having conference games,” Gov. Newsom said in a press conference Wednesday.
He went on to say that no group larger than 12 can gather to practice or play. So it seems that games can begin anytime for the Pac-12, as long as each team shows up with no more than 6 players.
This all comes after CFB Week 1 proved college football is happening, with or without the Pac-12.
With or without a USC-Notre Dame game, or a torch-lit Coliseum.
USC came in at No. 17 in the AP Top 25 preseason poll and it’s likely the only AP ranking USC will see this year. The Trojans won’t be included in future rankings unless they can squeeze in a season that aligns postseason play with teams who started on time.
The Pac-12 will ultimately do what it has to do to protect its players. On Monday, California recorded 2,235 new COVID-19 cases, pushing the state’s total past 760,000 cases. But football is being played across the country, whether some people like it or not.
Wanting a football season is not selfish.
Being an athlete is about taking your desire to play and will to win to the turf. Being a fan is about being there for your team. Winning. Losing. Cheering. Yelling. Laughing. And yes, even while they’re sidelined. It’s way less fun that way, though.
Fans should not be allowed to pack the stadium and immunocompromised, high-risk or fearful players can, rightfully so, opt-out of a potential season without losing their scholarships. I favor any and all guidelines that need to be followed in order to get the Trojans back on the field and pump life back into Pac-12 players' and fans' Saturdays.
“Run it Back” runs every other Wednesday.