While the Big Ten made the decision to play a conference-only football schedule in the fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, the other Power Five conferences are still in wait-and-see mode.
In the aftermath of the Big Ten news, some outlets reported Thursday that both the ACC and Pac-12 are likely to follow suit. If that decision has indeed been made, neither conference is ready to come forward with it at this point.
“The Pac-12 has not yet made a determination on fall sports,” the conference said in a statement. “The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports is our number one priority and we have been working closely with our Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Board and campus leadership over the past months to help guide our decision making.”
The ACC did not release an official statement Thursday, but multiple outlets are reporting that the league is trending toward a conference-only schedule. ESPN is reporting that the ACC is “amenable” to the possibility, while Stadium termed it as a “likely outcome.”
The ACC has a scheduling agreement with Notre Dame, an independent program, and would likely include the Irish in its plans. Notre Dame currently has six ACC opponents on its 2020 schedule, but has already lost Wisconsin due to the Big Ten’s decision. If the Pac-12 follows suit, two more opponents (Stanford and USC) will also be off the board. Whether the ACC would step up to fill those holes remains to be seen.
What about the SEC?
The SEC seems content pushing any decisions it makes about the 2020 season down the road a bit.
Greg Sankey, the league’s commissioner, said Thursday that meetings about the season will continue over 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. 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,” Sankey said.
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk told reporters Thursday that a conference-only model has been discussed in SEC circles.
“We’ve looked at about 12 different models of what we could do, and so depending on what occurs we’ll make adjustments on that, and by the end of July we should be — I guess we are in July — we'll be making those decisions on what we try to implement. As far as non-conference, I’ve had some conversations, just texts and they’ve sent examples of their protocols and things like that, but it’s been mostly the conference commissioners at this point talking a lot as far as what are our expectations and trying to come up with standardized levels, and then we'll drill down with individual schools. But yeah there's been conversations on on all those fronts.”
Big 12 commish: ‘Too early’ to make decision
Like the SEC, the Big 12 was not swayed by the Big Ten on Thursday. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby released a statement calling the Big Ten’s decision “interesting” and saying it will “provide additional information to inform our discussions.”
“At this time our medical and scientific advisors have suggested we should move ahead slowly with constant re-evaluation. We plan to continue to prepare for all available scenarios until we are informed that some are no longer viable,” Bowlsby said.
Bowlsby told the Austin American-Statesman that the Big 12 has examined the conference-only option, but believes it’s “too early” to make any decision.
Conferences acting in their own best interests
Though the commissioners from the power conferences communicate often, they operate independently and have to act in their own best interests in an unprecedented situation like this. The Big Ten showed that.
The Big Ten noted Thursday it is in the process of establishing its own “conference-wide protocols” in conjunction with its Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Medicine Committee. That way, even though Big Ten members are scattered across multiple states, they will all be following the same steps and taking the same safety precautions when it comes to the coronavirus.
Eliminating non-conference opponents from the schedule narrows the Big Ten’s conference’s focus. The move also provides scheduling flexibility should any outbreaks crop up during the season.
“The biggest thing is that this affords us an opportunity to be nimble and agile in an uncertain time,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel earlier Thursday. “It all ties back to the health and safety of our student-athletes. It’s easy for us to manage operations, the schedule and logistics when we’re focused on the Big Ten conference.”
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