PAC-12 Goes Conference-Only

Another small step toward canceling the fall sports calendar.

Another conference has altered its fall sports schedule to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, following the Ivy League’s decision to cancel the fall season entirely and the Big Ten’s move to conference-only schedule.

This move, which I’ve expected for months, impacts the opening to both the college football season and my own Alabama Crimson Tide. (“Alabama-USC game canceled, Tide AD responds“):

The Alabama-USC game that was to open the 2020 football season is officially canceled.

As of Thursday evening, Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne said the “current plan is to play the game,” but that changed Friday evening. The Pac-12 issued an announcement at 6 p.m. CT that its members would only play conference games this fall.

Byrne posted an immediate response to the Pac 12 news.

“As I’ve said before, USC AD Mike Bohn and I had multiple conversations over the last several months, and we were both planning on playing the football game on September 5 in Arlington,” Byrne said. “With the Pac-12-s decision to move to a conference-only schedule, we will do our best to adjust. What that looks like is to be determined.”

Alabama was to be paid $6 million to play the game in the home stadium of the Dallas Cowboys, according to the contract signed in 2018.

The Pac-12 follows the Big Ten’s decision released Thursday to take the same path regarding football scheduling in the coronavirus pandemic.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports continues to be our number one priority,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “Our decisions have and will be guided by science and data, and based upon the trends and indicators over the past days, it has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule, and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities.”

I remain skeptical that the fall college football season will be played.

If it is, though, this is a pretty significant impact. Alabama is expected to be in contention for the College Football Playoff and, thus, the national championship. This the only big non-conference game on Alabama schedule, taking away an opportunity for a significant win that would help in the case the team stumbles against a Southeastern Conference opponent.

It may be challenging to another team that they can slot at this point for a $6 million payoff. Notre Dame also lost their game with USC and Stanford with this decision and against Wisconsin with the Big Ten decision, so that would be an intriguing substitute.

UPDATE: ESPN‘s report “What do Pac-12 and Big Ten decisions mean for college football?” makes it seem quite probable that the other conferences will follow suit, at a minimum.

“Over the last few months, our conference has prepared numerous scenarios related to the fall athletics season,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “The league membership and our medical advisory group will make every effort to be as prepared as possible during these unprecedented times, and we anticipate a decision by our board of directors in late July.”

One ACC source said it is “very likely” the ACC is headed to a conference-only season but reiterated it is a week-to-week discussion that continues to evolve.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told ESPN on Friday that his conference is on the same timeline as the ACC, pointing toward a decision by late July.

The SEC will discuss its options during a meeting Monday with athletic directors and league officials that was scheduled before the Big Ten’s decision.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement last week there should be more clarity about the season by late July, and issued a similar statement to ESPN on Friday, referencing “the coming weeks.”

“The Southeastern Conference will continue to meet regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks, guided by medical advisors, to make the important decisions necessary to determine the best path forward related to the SEC fall sports,” the statement read. “We recognize the challenges ahead and know the well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans must remain at the forefront of those decisions.”

There’s a lot of talk about moving football to the spring but there are a lot of obstacles to that. For one thing, the NFL draft is currently in the way of that, although one suspects the League would be willing to accommodate its primary feeder program. But, more importantly, it’s not obvious what’s going to happen between now and January to make it any safer to play football then.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tyrell says:

    It will be interesting to see what the SEC does. The Ivy Leagues have gave in completely. What happened to the old “fight fight fight” spirit that they were famous for? Ivy League football teams were legendary for their toughness against bigger teams.
    Roger Penske is having the Indy 500 in August. The plan is half capacity of the famous Brickyard. That means 150,,000 fans. At that massive place they can easily spread that number of people 50 feet apart. They say that half a million
    could get in there, which some day might well happen. I visited that speedway years ago on a tour. The tv image does not convey even closely the size of that place.
    Penske gets things done. Years ago I watched him racing Camaros.

  2. de stijl says:


    You can’t “Fight, Fight, Fight!” chant a virus into submission.

    A virus literally does not care about how up-thrust your chin is.

    A virus absent an innoculation does its business. Infecting and spreading.

    Saying “I refuse to accept that and the best way forward is normalcy” allows the virus to infect and spread. This is really a pretty easy thing to grasp.

    Viruses do not care about attitude. They need cells so they can replicate.

    Our weapons are containment by quarantine, prophylaxis, working towards an innoculation.

    You cannot bully or chide a virus.

    This notion which about 40% of us believe and somehow strangely overlaps R voters is beyond foolishness.

  3. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: But… but… but… …what are we going to do for entertainment??? We’ve been reduced to repeats of television shows from the fall and soundstage performances in professional wrestling with a few filmed microdramas/specialty matches thrown in. It has to stop!!!
    Absolutely intolerable!!!

    ETA: If these young people are not willing to sacrifice their health for us now, how are we to expect them to be prepared for the injuries that can happen as professional athletes? We can’t let them become snowflakes! It’s un-American!!

  4. Slugger says:

    Well, if this means fewer Power Five conference teams scheduling some cupcake for an early season game, then I’m for it. Of course, Appalachian State v Michigan remains a favorite.
    On a serious note, we should use the best available science to protect the young people playing football. This includes proper equipment such as helmets and protection from disease. Is there any evidence that would make someone at Stanford think that it is more dangerous to travel to, say, Provo than to Eugene? If not, then schedule BYU. I firmly believe that the health of the players is much more important than the entertainment that fans get, and the people in charge should err on the side of caution. These decisions should use the best science and not just be based on emotion. There are lots of Covid cases in LA and Seattle; maybe the prudent move would be to schedule Idaho State.

  5. @Tyrell:

    What happened to the old “fight fight fight” spirit that they were famous for?

    They logically, rationally, and reasonably capitulated to the realities of a pandemic?

  6. de stijl says:


    That would just introduce a vector into Pocatello unless the team, the staff, the coaches, the equipment, the bus driver / plane crew are absolutely virus free.

    Never been, but I bet it is a fine town.

    How about just taking a season off?

    Is safer.

  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: It may be safer, but it’s just not fair to all the Tyrells of the US. They’ve been raised with the expectation that entertainment will be provided to them and that promise is being reneged on. We’ve got to get back our ‘Murkan spirit and tell this virus to fwk off because we’re not going to put up with its nonsense.

    If we did that, the virus would undoubtedly tuck its tail between its legs and slink off. Why do we lack the resolve to take the hard stands all of a sudden? Roger Penske wouldn’t let the virus tell him what to do. Vince Mc Mahon doesn’t. We shouldn’t let these kids wimp out this way.

  8. de stijl says:

    In old iterations of Total War there was mechanic where if squalor got too high you could get plague. Rome, Medieval

    You could not allow spies or diplomats or army units out or you could infect your entire empire.

    You left that city alone until the plague burnt out.

    Later iterations introduced the Black Death which just knackered all of your cities in a wave – lose 10% of pop every turn in every city affected. Your economy cratered.

    It did not take effort to resolve. There were no efforts you could take. You had to wait it out. It was a harsh lesson.

    It also affected Happiness and Order both of which could be adjusted by arena games and races if you had the supporting infrastructure.

    You could boost a city’s happiness by sending them to a tightly packed arena to watch gladiators or races which is odd given there is plague.

    You could goose Order by buying more town watch in the garrison.

    Extremely reductive, but at the time it was released it was revolutionary.

  9. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I’m totally down for the bread bit if administered wisely, but the circus part is unwise. Extremely unwise.

    Plus kids today are smart and not afraid to say no. They want a career not The Charge Of The Light Brigade suicide.

    Bread and circuses to entertain the masses may need a year off.