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Potential for healthy teams to be left home alone forces Pac-12 to rethink ban on non-conference games — today


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The Pac-12 is hurtling toward a sig­nif­i­cant pol­i­cy rever­sal after the ath­let­ic direc­tors agreed this week to allow non-con­fer­ence games if a league matchup is can­celed because of COVID-19 issues, accord­ing to mul­ti­ple sources with knowl­edge of the dis­cus­sions.

How­ev­er, the change requires approval from the pres­i­dents and chan­cel­lors, who had pre­vi­ous­ly banned non-con­fer­ence games for the 2020 sea­son.

The pres­i­dents dis­cussed the issue on 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 can­celed five games, large­ly because of out­breaks at Utah and Ari­zona State.

“It doesn’t mean we will play one,’’ a source said of the non-con­fer­ence option. “We just want that flex­i­bil­i­ty.”

Cur­rent­ly, there is none.

Most teams were pre­pared to open the sea­son on Oct. 31, but because sev­er­al Cal­i­for­nia schools need­ed more time, the pres­i­dents estab­lished Nov. 7 as the con­fer­ence-wide restart date — two weeks lat­er than the Big Ten and even the Moun­tain West.

The desire for uni­ty result­ed in a mas­ter sched­ule that fea­tured six games in six weeks pri­or to the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game on Dec. 18.

In oth­er words: The only win­dow for make­up dates is Dec. 19 — the day after the cham­pi­onship.

Add the ban on non-con­fer­ence games, and pre­cious Sat­ur­days have the poten­tial to slip away if an oppo­nent can­not play.

“It’s stress­ful if you don’t have some­body,’’ a source said. “What if three teams are out?”

Or what it one team is left out, which could be the case this week.

Col­orado is cur­rent­ly in lim­bo after the can­cel­la­tion of its game at ASU. If the oth­er five matchups are played as sched­uled, the Buf­faloes would be healthy but have no oppo­nent.

Unless they could step out­side the con­fer­ence.

“That is def­i­nite­ly on the table,” a source said, “espe­cial­ly where it geo­graph­i­cal­ly or his­tor­i­cal­ly makes sense.”

In addi­tion to the loss of com­pe­ti­tion, an idle week for any team like­ly would mean a loss of rev­enue for the con­fer­ence.

Each game tele­vised by ESPN or Fox is worth approx­i­mate­ly $5 mil­lion — or about $425,000 per school.

The amount paid for a non-con­fer­ence game might vary, but it would be sub­stan­tial for ath­let­ic depart­ments feel­ing the impact of the short­ened sea­son and no tick­et sales.

“We want max­i­mum flex­i­bil­i­ty for our schools,’’ said a source, who added that the ath­let­ic direc­tors were uni­fied on the mat­ter. “The group was very sup­port­ive.”

Will their boss­es agree?

Along with their peers in the Big Ten, the Pac-12’s pres­i­dents and chan­cel­lors vot­ed in ear­ly July to play a con­fer­ence-only sea­son.

At the time, they were con­cerned that dif­fer­ences in health-and-safe­ty stan­dards across con­fer­ences could place Pac-12 teams at risk if oppo­nents didn’t have ade­quate pro­to­cols in place.

Those dif­fer­ences remain: Each con­fer­ence has its own stan­dards.

How­ev­er, the access to dai­ly anti­gen test­ing, which wasn’t fore­seen in July, great­ly reduces the risk.

In addi­tion, there are no known instances — any­where — of on-field trans­mis­sion of the virus, accord­ing to Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s Chief Med­ical Offi­cer.

“We have seen zero evi­dence of trans­mis­sion play­er-to-play­er on the field, either dur­ing games or prac­tices, which I think is an impor­tant and pow­er­ful state­ment,’’ Sills told Sports Illus­trat­ed last week.

“And it also con­firms what oth­er sports leagues have found around the . We reg­u­lar­ly com­mu­ni­cate with Rug­by, Aus­tralian rules foot­ball, Euro­pean soc­cer leagues.

“To date, no one has doc­u­ment­ed a case of play­er-to-play­er trans­mis­sion in a field sport­ing envi­ron­ment.”

The non-con­fer­ence option could add a lay­er of com­plex­i­ty to the Pac-12 sched­ule, how­ev­er.

For exam­ple, what if Col­orado agreed to play a non-con­fer­ence game, but a sec­ond Pac-12 matchup was can­celed the next day — leav­ing the healthy team with­out an oppo­nent.

To account for that pos­si­bil­i­ty, sources said, stip­u­la­tions could be built into the agree­ments allow­ing Pac-12 teams to back out with­out penal­ty.

Non-con­fer­ence games aren’t the only top­ic of dis­cus­sion between the ath­let­ic direc­tors and con­fer­ence office, accord­ing to sources.

They’re also exam­in­ing how the Pac-12 will pri­or­i­tize matchups if an odd num­ber of teams need games.

Again, the issue 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 con­cerned it would have an open­ing because of play­er quar­an­tine issues at Ore­gon State.

Ulti­mate­ly, the Beavers were able to make the trip to Seat­tle. But had they can­celed, how would the con­fer­ence have cho­sen which of the three healthy teams (Wash­ing­ton, UCLA or Cal) would not com­pete.

Mul­ti­ple sources said pref­er­ence should be giv­en to divi­sion games.

In the exam­ple above, Cal and Wash­ing­ton like­ly would have been paired, with UCLA left with­out an oppo­nent.

How­ev­er, there is no offi­cial con­fer­ence pol­i­cy on the issue. And it might stay that way.

“We plan to main­tain the posi­tion of max­i­mum flex­i­bil­i­ty for con­fer­ence office sched­ul­ing deci­sions,’’ a source said.

“The tim­ing of can­cel­la­tions, in addi­tion to a myr­i­ad of oper­a­tions data, will play deter­min­ing fac­tors in any sce­nario with three teams avail­able to play due to game can­cel­la­tions.”

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