SALT LAKE CITY — Another postponement for Pac-12 football.
Growing optimism that the conference would announce some sort of return to play soon was put on hold Friday until at least late next week.
“The Pac-12 CEO Group had an informative and productive meeting earlier today. We plan to reconvene this coming Thursday, Sept. 24 to make a decision regarding possible return to play prior to Jan. 1,” said a statement from the league office released Friday night. “The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports will continue to be our number one priority in all of our decision-making.”
Earlier in the day, conference commissioner Larry Scott told the “Dan Patrick Show” that he didn’t expect a final decision to come out of a scheduled meeting Friday with the conference’s presidents and chancellors.
That news came a day after the conference gained assurances that coronavirus pandemic restrictions in California and Oregon would be lifted and allow the six teams in those two states to practice when the Pac-12 agrees to a universal start date and has rapid COVID-19 testing in place.
There’s hope that the latter will be in place by the end of the month, with games beginning a few weeks later. One published report indicated the season could begin as early as Oct. 31 and allow Pac-12 teams to ultimately compete for a College Football Playoff berth.
The conference previously announced that the season would be postponed until at least January.
“We’ve had a lot of progress over the last day or two, especially with public health officials in California and Oregon,” said Scott, who noted that the government approvals came on the heels of a Pac-12 partnership for rapid testing. “I think it’s brought us a long way. So our medical advisory committee is much more comfortable with us moving forward.”
Scott added that it looked like the hurdles had been cleared in that regard. A conference call with the Pac-12’s CEO Group, though, wasn’t necessarily going to cap things off on Friday. Scott said they were going to take stock of where they are and the path forward.
“We’ll see if we can align with others in college football still this fall,” Scott said.
The Pac-12 is the only Power Five conference without an announced return for football this fall. Scott didn’t expect conference leaders to vote on anything Friday and said he wasn’t going to push for an immediate decision.
“This has been a rapidly developing series of events,” Scott noted in mentioning how fast things happened on Thursday. “So we need to give folks who lead our campuses a chance to digest all this, take into account everything going on on their campuses.”
However, Scott acknowledged that six weeks of preparation is preferred for football and the rapid testing machines and readers won’t be shipped out until Monday, making a Halloween start to the season quite ambitious. Even so, Scott said the date is in the zip code (although early November may be more likely) if the conference opts to play.
Predicting the number of games is “uncharted territory” nationally and nothing can be ruled out because of the virus. Thus, its uncertain — at this point — how an extremely shorted season would impact the Pac-12’s chances to make the CFP.
Despite that uncertainty, Scott noted that it’s more likely that the season will be played soon and not in the spring as speculated by some.
“I’d say at this stage it’s promising,” he said. “It’s amazing how much has happened the last five weeks since we made our decision.”
Rapid COVID-19 testing and local health department approvals have come earlier than expected. The student-athletes, coaches and fans are eager to get the season going, and Scott said the Pac-12 has been committed to exploring every possibility to do so when it’s safe and approved by authorities.
Scott told Patrick that he believes a decision on the football season needs to be made no later than next week if they’re going to move forward.
“We’ve overcome the major obstacles that we had and the criteria that our medical advisers set with the public health authority approvals,” Scott said. “But our presidents and chancellors have to weigh the issues on their campuses. They’ll be the ultimate decision-makers, but in terms of the metrics and the issues we talked about in mid-August — the reasons why we weren’t going forward — we’ve made tremendous progress and have overcome those things.”
And that, Scott explained, is the message he planned to share with the presidents and chancellors.
University of Utah officials have yet to release a statement on the matter.