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Pac-12 to consider starting basketball season before January?

Colorado v Washington Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Pac-12 made what some considered to be a rash decision in August when it postponed all sports until at least January over concerns over the coronavirus. That made the Pac-12 just the second Division I conference to do so, the Ivy League being the first.

No one has joined the movement.

In fact, multiple reports surfaced Thursday that the NCAA, which will vote on the basketball season Sept. 16, is favoring a Nov. 25 or Dec. 4 start. Such a decision could cause the Pac-12 to revisit its resume date, according to Jon Wilner of the Mercury News and Matt Norlander of CBS Sports.

Norlander wrote that coaches and athletic directors are pushing university presidents and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott to reconsider, and that “there is a feeling of positive momentum to change this decision.”

But Norlander and Wilner noted two things the Pac-12 medical advisory group would want to see before it considers reversing course—COVID-19 community spread levels and testing availability/efficacy.

When it comes to the latter, there was potentially great news Wednesday when the FDA authorized a COVID-19 test made by Abbott that only costs $5 and yields results in 15 minutes.

The company said in a press release that it plans to produce 50 million tests per month by October. And though college sports programs are not likely to be the first to receive them—sports aren’t that important—maybe they can get their hands on them by late November or December.

Such rapid testing would allow Pac-12 teams to test on game day and rule out any infected players before competition. The accuracy rate of the Abbott test is said to be upwards of 90 percent. That rate is even higher if players can be tested multiple times, a real possibility given the low cost.

The community spread aspect of this equation will be trickier to manage. Students have started flocking back to some Pac-12 campuses this month, including Arizona and Arizona State.

It remains to be seen how well those universities can prevent outbreaks, but the UA had some success by testing wastewater at the Likins residence hall. The school was able to identity two asymptomatic individuals before they could spread the virus to their peers.

Meanwhile, the UA athletic department has only reported six cases since the beginning of June, despite testing 169 athletes and 89 staff members, many more than once.

However, the UA cannot control what happens outside its borders, so there is only so much it can do to keep its students safe.

The state of Arizona has done well to stop the virus, reporting fewer than 1,000 cases per day every day since Aug. 4 after it was reporting roughly 5,000 per day at the beginning of July.

But what about the other Pac-12 regions?

California in particular is still a hotspot for the virus, reporting the most cases in the country. The four Pac-12 institutions there have gone exclusively to online learning this semester and have not been able to host their student-athletes on campus for workouts for weeks.

Starting basketball season in late November or early December means they would have to get the green light to begin training relatively soon. (Practice usually starts in September and that’s after weeks of strength and conditioning.)

So while there are reasons to be optimistic about Pac-12 sports beginning before January, some major hurdles still have to be cleared. But at the very least it’s promising that the conference appears to be open-minded about how it proceeds from here.

The Pac-12 is already lagging behind other major conferences when it comes to revenue and quality of play. Being at home while the others play would only deepen the divide.

“I think we’re pretty convinced that we’re moving towards January, but I’m not a person that would not consider something,” Arizona athletic Dave Heeke said earlier in the month. “So, could something change that allows us to consider it? OK, I don’t see that, but if there is an abundance of evidence and our medical advisory group was entertaining that, we could have that conversation.”