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Pac-12 joins move to conference-only play for fall sports

A football game last year between the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. The Pac-12 Conference said it is moving several of its key fall sports to conference-only schedules this year. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

The Pac-12 Conference has followed the lead of its Power Five conference counterpart the Big Ten and moved “several” of its fall sports to conference-only play due to Covid-19. 

In a move that further shows the heightening pressure of US college sports is facing, the Pac-12 said some of its key fall sports, including football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball, will be played solely within the conference and the start of mandatory athletic activities will be delayed. The conference intends to still play football and all other fall sports “provided it can meet the health and safety needs of its student-athletes and obtain appropriate permissions from state and local health authorities.”

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports continues to be our number one priority,” said Larry Scott, Pac-12 commissioner. “Our decisions have and will be guided by science and data, and based upon the trends and indicators over the past days, it has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule, and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities.”

Less than two hours after the Pac-12’s announcement about fall sports, the conference said that Scott himself tested positive for Covid-19. Scott, 55, has experienced mild flu-like symptoms, is self-quarantining, and is working remotely. The California resident is located in one of the US states that has seen a sharp upward spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

Though certain components of US college sports, particularly football and men’s basketball, enjoy broad fan popularity equal to or greater than many pro leagues, this segment of the industry typically does not have the same level of financial and operational resources as a pro league. The schools’ mission as educational institutions also differs from the fully commercial enterprises of their professional counterparts.

As a result, the college conferences and individual schools are not equipped to set up fully quarantined environments that several pro entities such as the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer have done to restart play. 

“Competitive sports are an integral part of the educational experience for our student-athletes, and we will do everything that we can to support them in achieving their dreams while at the same time ensuring that their health and safety is at the forefront,” said Michael Schill, president of Pac-12 member school the University of Oregon.

Revised Pac-12 schedules will be announced no later than July 31. 

The Pac-12’s move, along with that of the Big Ten, will likely be joined by other conferences, and in turn, have seismic impacts on the determining national champions in fall sports. 

The Ivy League has already gone much further, moving to eliminate its fall sports entirely.

Like the Big Ten, the shift to conference-only play will also result in the loss of large financial paydays to schools from smaller conference that were set to be compensated for playing Pac-12 schools in football. The move additionally eliminates several prominent football games with schools in other Power Five conferences, including a much-anticipated game previously scheduled for September 5 between the University of Southern California and the University of Alabama. 

Pac-12 student athletes who choose not to participate this coming academic year will still have their scholarships honored and will remain in good standing with their teams.