The Pac-12 announced it will begin its football season Nov. 6 following a vote Thursday by conference presidents and chancellors. Men’s and women’s basketball may start Nov. 25 in concordance with the NCAA’s plan, and winter sports will also follow NCAA start dates.
Every football team will play seven conference games in the shortened season, and the conference championship game will be held Dec. 18, allowing Pac-12 teams to be considered for a College Football Playoff berth.
“We are excited and appreciative for the decision that came from our presidents and chancellors today to start the 2020 football season,” USC football head coach Clay Helton said. “The patience that our University leaders showed has allowed us the time to produce the safest environment possible for our student-athletes … We look forward to the preparation of a season and having the opportunity to compete for championships.”
The conference granted permission for universities to begin practice immediately if permitted by public health authorities. Gatherings of larger than 12 people are not allowed under California’s interim guidelines for college sports, but USC athletic director Mike Bohn said the state is “working with [the University] and committing to revisions to public health guidelines that will allow us to practice and play safely and in competitive balance with our conference and national peers.”
Other sports that typically compete in the fall, including volleyball and soccer, will compete beginning in January 2021. Non-conference competition will depend on whether opponents implement testing protocols in accordance with NCAA and Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee guidelines.
The conference announced a partnership with Quidel Corporation Sept. 3 that allows teams to administer daily coronavirus tests and receive results within 15 minutes. The Pac-12 said in August it would not resume competition until 2021, citing the lack of available rapid testing as a concern.
USC has not been immune to coronavirus-related cancelations. Nine players from its football and water polo teams tested positive beginning Aug. 26, forcing the two teams to cancel workouts for two weeks.
“From the beginning of this crisis, our focus has been on following the science, data and counsel of our public health and infectious disease experts,” commissioner Larry Scott said. "Our agreement with Quidel to provide daily rapid-results testing has been a game-changer in enabling us to move forward with confidence that we can create a safe environment for our student-athletes while giving them the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
USC Athletics confirmed yesterday it has received the Quidel testing machines.
The Pac-12 is the final Power Five conference to decide on playing football this calendar year and the second to overturn its initial decision given enhanced testing capabilities. The ACC, SEC and Big 12 all approved return-to-play plans this past summer, while the Big Ten reversed its postponement decision Sept. 15, announcing that its teams will play a shortened schedule starting Oct. 24.
The road has already been bumpy for teams returning to play earlier than the Pac-12. Seven Notre Dame players tested positive this past week, forcing the Fighting Irish to postpone their game against Wake Forest Saturday. Five other Week 4 games have been postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
Given the risk of contracting COVID-19, the University is giving its student-athletes the opportunity to opt out of the season without losing scholarship money.
“As we have been these past several weeks, we will move forward with great caution and care for our student-athletes,” Bohn said. “Any student-athlete who chooses not to participate in competition due to COVID-related concerns will not be pressured in any way or suffer any reductions in financial aid.”