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How does the Pac-12 going to conference-only schedules affect Arizona?

COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: OCT 27 Oregon at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pac-12 announced Friday that it will be moving to conference-only schedules for fall sports like football, volleyball and soccer.

The move gives the Pac-12 a greater ability to set start dates and implement a standardized testing protocol for every game.

More details will be released before the end of the July on how they will make that happen. Until then, let’s take a look at some of the things that will have to be sorted out.

How many football games will there be?

The easy answer is nine. Just remove the three non-conference games each Pac-12 team had scheduled and go from there, maybe move the dates around if needed.

But the Pac-12 could easily move to an 11-game schedule by having everyone in the conference play each other once, a true round robin. Just like it used to be in the Pac-10.

The winner of the North and South divisions could square off in a championship game or the No. 1 team in the conference could just be awarded the Pac-12 title outright.

If a nine-game schedule and an 11-game schedule are possible, then why not 10? That’s another possibility, per Bruce Feldman of The Athletic.

But where does the 10th game come from? Do you play your rival twice? Do you play one of the teams from the opposite division that you were supposed to skip this year? (i.e. Arizona playing Cal).

In a vacuum it makes more sense to go with a balanced, 11-game schedule, but the calculus changes during a pandemic. Cutting back on games is more sensible than adding them.

That said...

How will Arizona volleyball and soccer make up a ton of games?

Last year, Arizona volleyball played 32 matches, 12 out of conference. Soccer had 19 regular-season matches, eight out of conference (including the one that was canceled).

So if the Pac-12 doesn’t attempt to make these games up within the conference, volleyball would lose 38 percent of its regular season. Soccer would lose 42 percent. That’s harsh. (Football, in comparison, only loses 25 percent at maximum.)

In soccer, Pac-12 teams play each other once, so to add games you could create two six-team divisions and have the teams within each division play each other twice. That would add an extra five games to the schedule for a grand total of 16 regular-season games. Seems reasonable.

Soccer could also do a double round-robin where every Pac-12 team plays each other twice, but that would call for 22 regular-season games, two more than Arizona soccer played all of last season including the postseason. Probably too many.

In volleyball, Pac-12 teams play every team but one twice for a total of 20 conference games. So you can easily pick up two extra games by making it a true double round-robin.

Could soccer and volleyball add a conference tournament to make up even more games? The Pac-12 doesn’t normally do those, and having so many athletes in one location might not be the best idea when there is a super contagious virus going around.

That would also require the NCAA to change the dates (and perhaps sites) of the NCAA Tournament, one of the real problems of extending the season.

Will Arizona fall sports be extended or shortened?

This kind of ties into the previous question. Soccer, volleyball and football season will start later than usual, but does that mean they will be extended and end later than usual too? Or will their seasons just be shorter than usual and end on time?

Since the health of student-athletes should come first, a shortened season seems more likely, but priorities are often different when there is money involved.

If fall sports are extended, there is a chance they bleed into the winter and spring. In which case you are looking at facility space possibly being an issue since volleyball shares McKale Center with gymnastics and men’s and women’s basketball.

But luckily (shameless plug), I outlined six venues Arizona could use to house events, as well as how they can schedule smartly to ensure McKale can hold every event.

When will Arizona fall sports start?

Well, if we want to use last season as a reference, here are the dates of volleyball, soccer and football’s Pac-12 openers:

  • Volleyball: Sept. 26
  • Soccer: Sept. 27
  • Football: Sept. 28

Those sports would have started in mid-to-late August this year, so scrubbing the non-conference season essentially gives them an extra month to buy time. Will that be enough? Or are we looking at an October, November or January start?

What does this mean for Lauren Ware and other two-sport athletes?

Volleyball’s season being delayed could mean freshman Lauren Ware, a two-sport athlete, gets even less time with the women’s basketball team this season (assuming men’s and women’s basketball are not delayed as well).

Had things been normal, Ware would have joined WBB sometime in December after the volleyball season ended, right around the end of women’s basketball non-conference play.

Now? Who knows. If volleyball season gets pushed back to the winter or spring, which we cannot rule out at this point, Ware might have to choose between volleyball and basketball. (It’s worth noting that she will technically be under scholarship for basketball.)

Either way, it’s a bummer. The 6-foot-5 freshman is highly-regarded in both sports.

Other two-sport athletes that could be affected: Shelby O’Neal (volleyball, beach volleyball) and pretty much everyone from cross country and track and field.

Will any Arizona athletes opt out?

The Pac-12 announced Friday that any athletes who do not wish to participate this season will continue to have their scholarships honored by their university.

It’s easy to see why some athletes would consider that. Do they really want to use one of their precious years of eligibility for a shortened season during a pandemic?

However, it may not be a realistic option for some soccer and volleyball players for financial reasons since most are not on full scholarship.

Hey, at least the competition will be better

If there’s an upside to all of this, it’s that every fall sporting event will be extremely competitive. The Pac-12 is the best conference in the country for volleyball and soccer, loaded from top to bottom, including some perennial national championship contenders.

And while the Pac-12 isn’t what it used to be in college football, Arizona no longer has to face Hawaii, Portland State, and a Texas Tech team that won four games last season.