Pac-12 announces it will not play college football this fall

The Pac-12 has decided to not play its football season this fall over concerns that the sport carries too much risk for athletes, the conference said Tuesday, joining the Big Ten as the second member of the Power Five to elect not to play over the health issues raised by the coronavirus pandemic.

Combined, the announcement by the two leagues less than two hours apart foreshadow a series of similar moves that may eventually lead to the cancellation of the entire Bowl Subdivision season.

“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. 

“Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.”

Oregon running back CJ Verdell carries the ball against Southern California during their game in 2019 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports)

All Pac-12 sports competitions will be postponed until at least Jan. 1, the league said. The decision came following a meeting of the Pac-12 CEO Group.

In addition to canceling the football season, the announcement impacts a number of other fall sports in the Pac-12, including volleyball and soccer.

The remaining members of the Power Five remain scheduled to play beginning in September. Commissioners from the Big 12 and SEC have preached a patient approach while evaluating health concerns that may arise due to the coronavirus.

“Unlike professional sports, college sports cannot operate in a bubble,” Scott said. “Our athletic programs are a part of broader campuses in communities where in many cases the prevalence of COVID-19 is significant.  We will continue to monitor the situation and when conditions change we will be ready to explore all options to play the impacted sports in the new calendar year.”

The conference will guarantee all scholarships and will encourage the NCAA to grant athletes an additional season of eligibility, the Pac-12 said.

A group tasked with providing guidance on medical issues, the Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health and Well-being Initiative, came to the assessment that COVID-19 prevalence "remains very high in much of the Pac-12 footprint and traveling to many places is likely unsafe, particularly on commercial aircraft" and recommended against "initiating contact or competition activities."

"We are concerned about health outcomes related to the virus," the group said. "Among these, there is new and evolving information regarding potential serious cardiac side effects in elite athletes. We do not have enough information to understand the short and long-term outcomes regarding these health issues."

The Pac-12 announced on July 31 an altered schedule of 10 conference games beginning no earlier than Sept. 26. Like the Big Ten and SEC, the league opted against playing non-conference games as a way to provide scheduling flexibility and slightly minimize the potential risks in travel and competing against teams from areas outside the Pac-12 footprint.

The postponement of the Pac-12 fall sports season doesn’t directly impact other Power Five leagues due to this removal of non-conference play. (Only the ACC and Big 12 allowed a single non-league game under certain conditions.) However, removing the Pac-12 and Big Ten from the season does raise questions about the ability to conduct a hypothetical postseason and College Football Playoff without a complete roster of conferences.

While not as deep with championship contenders as the Big Ten and SEC and lacking a Clemson-like national front-runner, the Pac-12 was predicted to have at least on team, Oregon, be a factor in the playoff chase.

The Ducks were ranked ninth in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll. Another two teams, No. 17 Southern California and No. 20 Utah, joined Oregon in the preseason Top 25.

Removing the Pac-12 and Big Ten from the season does raise questions about the ability to conduct a hypothetical postseason and playoff without a complete roster of conferences.

"It’s too soon to say what the implications will be," playoff executive director Bill Hancock told USA TODAY Sports. "We will wait for guidance from the (playoff) board and management committee.”

In all, four FBS conferences have decided against playing in the fall, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 joined by two Group of Five leagues, the MAC and Mountain West. Two independent programs, Connecticut and Massachusetts, have also decided to shift toward the potential for a spring season.

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