Potential for healthy teams to be left home alone forces Pac-12 to rethink ban on non-conference games
The Pac-12 is speeding toward a major policy reversal after the athletics directors agreed this week to allow non-conference matches if a league match is canceled due to COVID-19 issues, according to multiple sources aware of the discussions.
However, the change requires approval from the Presidents and Chancellors, who had previously banned non-conference matches for the 2020 season.
Presidents discussed the matter Tuesday, sources said, but it is not known whether a vote was taken.
The ability to play non-conference games would help fill vacancies if an odd number of teams are healthy enough to compete in a given week.
The Pac-12 has already been canceled five games, largely due to outbreaks in Utah and Arizona State.
“It doesn’t mean we will play one,” said a source of the no-conference option. “We just want that flexibility.”
Currently there is none.
Most teams were prepared to open the season on October 31, but as several schools in California needed more time, the presidents set November 7 as the start date for the entire conference – two weeks ahead of the Big Ten and even the Mountain West.
The desire for unity resulted in a six-game master’s program in six weeks prior to the championship game on December 18.
In other words, the only window for makeup dates is December 19 – the day after the Championship.
Add the ban on non-conference games, and precious Saturdays can slip away when an opponent can’t play.
“It’s stressful when you don’t have anyone,” said a source. “What if three teams are eliminated?”
Or what one team omits, which could be the case this week.
Colorado is currently in limbo following the cancellation of his match at ASU. If the other five matchups are played as planned, the Buffaloes would be healthy but have no opponent.
Unless they could step outside the conference.
“That’s certainly on the table,” said one source, “especially where it makes geographic or historical sense.”
In addition to the loss of competition, an inactive week for any team would likely mean a loss of conference revenue.
Each game broadcast by ESPN or Fox is worth about $ 5 million – or about $ 425,000 per school.
The amount paid for a non-conference game can vary, but it would be significant if athletic departments felt the impact of the shortened season and no ticket sales.
“We want maximum flexibility for our schools,” said a source, adding that the athletic directors were unanimous on this matter. “The group was very helpful.”
Will their bosses agree?
Along with their peers in the Big Ten, the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors voted in early July for a conference-only season.
At the time, they were concerned that differences in health and safety standards between conferences could endanger Pac-12 teams if opponents did not have adequate protocols.
Those differences persist: each conference has its own standards.
However, access to daily antigen tests, which were not foreseen in July, significantly reduces the risk.
Additionally, there are no known cases – anywhere – of field transmission of the virus, according to Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer.
“We have not seen any evidence of player-to-player transfer on the field, either during matches or training, which I think is an important and powerful statement,” Sills told Sports Illustrated last week.
“And it also confirms what other sports leagues around the world have found. We communicate regularly with World Rugby, Australian football, European football leagues.
“To date, no one has documented a case of player-to-player transfer in a sports environment.”
However, the no-conference option can add a layer of complexity to the Pac-12 scheme.
For example, what if Colorado agreed to play a non-conference game, but a second Pac-12 game was canceled the next day – leaving the healthy team without an opponent.
To account for that possibility, sources said, clauses could be built into the agreements that would allow Pac-12 teams to withdraw without penalty.
Non-conference games are not the only topic of discussion between the sports directors and the convention bureau, according to sources.
They’re also exploring how the Pac-12 prioritizes matchups when an odd number of teams need games.
Again, the matter is best conveyed with an example:
At one point late last week, Cal needed a game (because ASU couldn’t play), UCLA needed a game (Utah couldn’t play), and Washington was worried it would have an opening due to problems with players quarantining in Oregon State.
Ultimately, the Beavers managed to make the trip to Seattle. But if they had canceled, how would the conference have chosen which of the three healthy teams (Washington, UCLA or Cal) would not participate.
Multiple sources said preference should be given to division games.
In the example above, Cal and Washington would likely have been paired, with UCLA without an opponent.
However, there is no official conference policy on this matter. And maybe it will stay that way.
“We intend to maintain the position of maximum flexibility for conference office planning decisions,” said a source.
“The timing of cancellations, in addition to a large amount of operational data, will play a determining factor in any scenario with three teams available to play due to a match being canceled.”
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