DENVER – The Pac-12 Conference voted Thursday to start the football, basketball and winter sports seasons in the fall, but there are questions about what that means for the CU Buffs athletics program as the university’s COVID-19 cases continue to grow.
The Thursday decision reverses course from August, when conference officials said all sports would be postponed through the end of the year and that they would consider a return to competition on Jan. 1.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 had made that announcement on the same day, but the Big Ten has also since reversed course after discovering a rapid test that could be used, which Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott earlier this month was “a major step toward the safe resumption of Pac-12 sport competitions.”
The Pac-12 said Thursday that the football season can start Nov. 6 for teams that meet “necessary state and local health approvals” and that men’s and women’s basketball can start as normal on Nov. 25. The football conference championship would be played Dec. 18.
The conference said that universities that will use the new rapid testing program will perform at least one test weekly on each athlete and that each university’s sports-medicine group would be performing cardiac monitoring as well.
The conference said that the decision to resume a fall football season was agreed to unanimously.
No fans will be permitted at any of the events for the fall and winter, though that choice will be re-evaluated in January, the conference said.
“From the beginning of this crisis, our focus has been on following the science, data and counsel of our public health and infectious disease experts,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “Our agreement with Quidel to provide daily rapid-results testing has been a game-changer in enabling us to move forward with confidence that we can create a safe environment for our student-athletes while giving them the opportunity to pursue their dreams. At the same time, we will continue to monitor health conditions and data and be ready to adjust as required in the name of the health of all.”
The ACC, Big 12 and SEC conferences all decided to play this fall earlier this year, and with the Big Ten’s decision and the SEC starting play this weekend, the Pac-12 faced additional pressure for a fall season.
But CU Boulder is in a unique situation in the conference, as Boulder County Public Health issued a new public health order Thursday prohibiting gatherings among university students aged 18-22 for the next 14 days amid a massive spike in COVID-19 cases at the university. The outbreak at the university is now the largest in the state.
All university students also began at least two weeks of remote learning on Wednesday.
CU Athletic Director Rick George said Thursday evening it would be working with local officials to adhere to the public health order.
"We will work with public health officials to comply with the new public health order and be part of the community solution in controlling the spike in cases so we can resume team activities as soon as possible,” George said. "And we’ll do everything we can to support our student-athletes academically, emotionally and physically so they’re ready to go as soon as we get the opportunity.”
And the university athletics department said that the practice start dates were still up in the air because of the new public health order.
There have been limited football practices every Tuesday and Thursday that involve individual position drills and some throwing and catching, as well as strength and conditioning workouts.
New cases of COVID-19 have been on the rise for nearly three weeks in Boulder County. The health department said the new COVID-19 cases are vastly due to transmission of people 18 to 22 years old, particularly those at the University of Colorado Boulder and living in the Hill neighborhood.
Dan Jones, CU Boulder Associate Vice Chancellor of Integrity, Safety and Compliance said Thursday the school supports the order.
“This new public health directive will be a strain on our students living in Boulder, and we are focusing on efforts to support them," he said.
And the director of football operations, Bryan McGinnis, was last week issued a summons for failure to obtain a large group permit and violating a public health order because of a football team hike together up Mount Sanitas that broke county and park group limits.
Reports say the conference plans to have a championship game before Dec. 20, when the College Football Playoff selection committee will vote on which teams would be in the playoffs among Power 5 conferences.
University of Colorado athletics officials are expected to address what the vote will mean for them on Thursday evening.