The dominoes are starting to fall when it comes to fall college sports. And it’s not a pretty sight.
The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday it would move to a conference-only schedule for all fall sports, including football, “if the Conference is able to participate based on medical advice” related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Pac-12 and ACC are planning to do the same, according to Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic, who was the first to report the Big Ten’s decision.
For the Arizona Wildcats, that would mean non-conference football games against Hawaii (Aug. 29), Portland State (Sept. 5) and at Texas Tech (Sept. 19) would be scrapped, leaving the Pac-12 opener Sept. 12 at home against Stanford as the first scheduled game.
As for volleyball, soccer and cross country, the reduction in games would be even more severe. Athletes from those sports have yet to arrive on campus, as is also the case with football newcomers, after the UA paused its re-entry plan last week in reaction to the state’s rapid increase in positive tests.
Odds are the entire conference football schedule would be overhauled to accommodate the changes, which could lead to an 11-game round-robin league slate such as the one we speculated on back in May (see below), or possibly fewer than the nine conference games Pac-12 teams currently play.
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News suggested a plan earlier this week that would allow for league-wide byes during the season to accommodate games being moved if a team had an outbreak of positive cases.
The benefit of moving to a conference-only schedule is the ability to set a universal testing protocol. Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke said a couple weeks ago that that will be key to beginning fall sports on time.
“Can we come to an agreement on how we’re testing in the appropriate manner, so that when we play a football game—for that matter when we play a soccer game, when we play a volleyball game—that both teams and the staff around them and those involved in the game, that they’ve all been tested, and we all feel comfortable with the status?,” he said. “Are we comfortable with those testing protocols so that we can assure that we’ve done the very best that we can? If we’re all on par, we all feel really comfortable with that, I think we can move forward.”
At this point, however, it’s looking more and more likely that there will be no college sports this fall.