There will be an Oregon football season in 2020, after the Pac-12 Conference announced Thursday evening that its members can return to competition beginning Friday, Nov. 6, with approval from state and local health officials.
The Pac-12 CEO Group, chaired by University of Oregon President Michael H. Schill, received updated guidance last week from the Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee. Based on that guidance, plus conversations since last week with campus groups including cohorts of student-athletes, Schill said, the CEO group unanimously agreed on Thursday’s announcement.
The news came a little over six weeks after the Pac-12 announced Aug. 11 that competition in all sports would be delayed until after Jan. 1 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It also came three weeks after the conference announced a deal with diagnostic testing manufacturer Quidel Corporation that allowed for Pac-12 teams to provide improved testing protocol, including daily testing for COVID-19, which conference commissioner Larry Scott said at the time was a “major step” toward returning to competition.
In the interim, the state of Oregon experienced devastating wildfires that would have precluded organized practices due to poor air quality. But over the past week, the smoke has begun to clear, UO athletics received its testing equipment from Quidel and Thursday’s announcement by the Pac-12 paved the way for football to resume.
“We had a really good, robust discussion today. and the discussion among the presidents and chancellors was largely about the benefits as well as the cons of starting in the fall versus starting in January,” Schill said. “We had a really thorough discussion of both sets of start dates, and it was the consensus opinion that the benefits of starting in the fall were much greater than starting in the winter.”
Schill said conversations with student-athletes since receiving the new medical guidance last week were particularly compelling.
“This is something they dream of; this is something they went for their future,” Schill said. “And this is something they had been deprived of. COVID-19 has taken so much away from these students, I didn’t want to take this way from them. So if I could feel comfortable with their health and their safety, that we weren’t jeopardizing that, then to give them this ability to fulfill their dream was something I felt I should vote in favor of. …
“These are students, and we have the obligation to protect them. And so we’re going to do that. We also have the obligation to help them fulfill their ambitions, as with all our students. So we’re balancing both, and will continue balancing it all the way through.”
Pac-12 football teams will play each of their five division rivals in the 2020 regular season, plus one team from the other division. All 12 teams will play on Friday, Dec. 18, including the two division winners in the Pac-12 championship game. The College Football Playoff selection committee will meet that weekend to set the lineup for New Year’s Six bowl games.
The Pac-12 also said Thursday that men’s and women’s basketball teams can begin preparing for the start of their season Nov. 25, the date designated by the NCAA last week for the first competitions of the 2020-21 season. All Pac-12 competition will be held without fans in attendance, the conference announced Thursday, though that decision will be revisited after Jan. 1.
Other fall sports, including cross country, volleyball and soccer, had their NCAA championship events moved to the spring, and so their seasons will be contested in line with that schedule.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes has been the top priority for us throughout the ongoing pandemic,” UO athletic director Rob Mullens said. “We have taken a patient, thoughtful approach in our return to training, and we will continue our diligent collaboration with Lane County Public Health, the Oregon Health Authority, the UO Incident Management Team, and the Pac-12 Medical Advisory Committee as we return to practice and competition.
“With the enhanced testing capabilities provided by the Pac-12 partnership with Quidel, we are excited for our football and men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes who have expressed a strong desire to participate to have the opportunity to safely return to competition in November. Our cross country, soccer, and volleyball programs will compete in the spring, in line with the revised NCAA calendar for their championship seasons.
“We commend our student-athletes, coaches, and staff for their continued strong commitment to following all safety protocols, and we look forward to a safe return to practice and games.”
The Oregon football team is coming off a 12-2 season in which the Ducks defeated Utah for the Pac-12 championship and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Oregon lost linebacker Troy Dye to the NFL draft but returns several key pieces on its resurgent defense, and the offense returns running back CJ Verdell along with receivers Jaylon Redd and Johnny Johnson III.
The football team’s 2020 schedule, including some television information, is likely to be announced next week, Scott said.