The governors of California and Oregon delivered vaguely encouraging news Wednesday to Pac-12 schools hoping to stage football games this calendar year if wildfires and the coronavirus pandemic allow.
At the moment, pandemic-related health guidelines in those states — home to six schools in the Pac-12 — prevent football teams from conducting full-scale workouts or games, but California Gov. Gavin Newsom and a spokesman for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown suggested they might loosen the rules for those teams at some point.
Their comments came after the Big Ten announced Wednesday it was reversing its decision to disallow football this year, leaving the Pac-12 as the only Power Five conference planning to sit out the season. The Big Ten is looking at an eight-game season starting Oct. 24. Also, the Mountain West said their league was working to play football “at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott characterized the governors’ comments as a clear victory in the conference’s efforts to resume fall sports, and suggested the ball now is in the hands of county health officials and the whims of the pandemic.
“The Pac-12 welcomes today’s statements by (Newsom and Brown) that state public health officials will allow for contact practice and return to competition,” Scott said in a Pac-12 statement. “... Our California and Oregon universities will now each individually and (immediately) reach out to their relevant county public health officials to seek clarification on what is required to achieve the same clearance to resume contact practice and competition.”
Newsom said California would be willing “to engage the Pac-12” on virus-related guidelines concerning “cohorts,” the term being used for groups of six to 12 athletes who work out together exclusively to minimize the number of teammates with whom they’re coming in close contact.
Newsom, who said he had spoken to Scott earlier in the day, also implied state and local physical distancing measures are being misconstrued as restrictions specifically applied to college sports.
“I want to make this crystal-clear,” Newsom told the Bay Area News Group. “Nothing in the state guidelines denies the ability for the Pac-12 to resume. That’s been a misrepresentation of the facts.”
Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Brown, said Oregon and Oregon State have been granted an exemption from state guidelines regarding the pandemic, pending the receipt of the conference’s specific plans for workouts and games.
“Representatives of the University of Oregon and Oregon State University athletic departments met with the Oregon Health Authority this afternoon to discuss their COVID-19 health and safety plans for their football teams,” Boyle said in a statement. “The universities have asked for an exemption to OHA’s sports guidance, just as Oregon’s professional sports teams have been given. We have granted that request, and under the new guidance, OHA must receive written plans for approval.
“Let me stress that, up to this point, we have received no written plans from the Pac-12 for the upcoming season,” he continued, “and we have no details from the conference about their new rapid testing proposal. Until we have have those details, we can’t move forward in the process.”
He was referring to the Pac-12 announcement three weeks ago it was partnering with Quidel Corporation to provide each school with equipment late this month that will allow daily virus testing with rapid results. That sort of technology appears to be key to the Big Ten’s decision to allow football this year and the Pac-12’s efforts to do the same.
But for now, health regulations in California and Oregon, complicated by poor air quality because of raging wildfires, stand in the way of setting a Pac-12 timeline. Because of the risk of injury, college football teams generally need at least four weeks of contact work before being allowed to play, and players are especially rusty this year because of the cancellation of spring drills during the early stage of the pandemic.
“We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season,” Scott said in his statement, “as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public authority approvals.”
Dale Grummert may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2290.