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Sports >  WSU football

Pac-12 nears return after health officials in California, Oregon green-light contact practice

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 16, 2020

The only thing standing between the Pac-12 Conference and the resumption of a fall football season had been clearance from public health officials in California and Oregon, whose guidelines have prevented teams from initiating contact practice, let alone holding full-on college football games.

Those states, which house half of the conference’s teams, lifted restrictions on Wednesday, clearing the largest hurdle the Pac-12 has faced in its effort to get back on the field in 2020.

“The Pac-12 welcomes today’s statements by Governor (Gavin) Newsom of California and Governor (Kate) Brown of Oregon that state public health officials will allow for contact practice and return to competition, and that there are no state restrictions on our ability to play sports in light of our adherence to strict health and safety protocols and stringent testing requirements, including our recently announced partnership with Quidel which will enable daily rapid results testing,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement Wednesday.

Wednesday’s developments don’t guarantee a return to the field in 2020, but the path toward playing a late-fall season is conceivably much more straightforward now that state officials in California and Oregon have given a green light.

Now universities in those states – USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State – must obtain clearance from local health officials to take the next step toward resuming practice and contact activities.

“Our California and Oregon universities will now each individually and immediately reach out to their relevant county public health officials to seek clarification on what is requires to achieve the same clearance to resume contact practice and competition,” Scott said. “We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public health authority approvals.”

Athletic directors at USC and UCLA got a jumpstart on that Wednesday evening, joining forces during a Zoom call with Los Angeles County public health officials, Jon Wilner of The Mercury News reported. According to Wilner, the Trojans’ Mike Bohn and the Bruins’ Martin Jarmond received the county approval needed for their respective schools to begin full-contact practice.

Now only Stanford (Santa Clara County), Cal (Berkeley County), Oregon (Lane County) and Oregon State (Benton County) need approval from local health authorities to start practicing.

Earlier Wednesday, it seemed uncertain California’s health department would allow the state’s four teams to conduct full-contact practices, even with Newsom saying “there’s nothing in the state guidelines that denies the Pac-12 from having conference games.”

Newsom’s comments initially caused more confusion than clarity, considering California’s guidelines explicitly state players cannot practice in cohorts larger than 12, which would theoretically prevent teams from holding intrasquad scrimmages or compete in games.

“Now this manifests very differently depending on the sport,” Newsom said. “Basketball cohorting of up to 12, maybe a little easier than football up to 12, but offensive teams, defensive teams, are able to coordinate and practice and the like.

“So, I want to make this crystal clear, nothing in the state guidelines deny the ability for the Pac-12 to resume. Quite the contrary. That has been a misrepresentation of the facts, but what is accurate, and I appreciate the frame of your question, that the NCAA has made progress the (Big Ten), which will be resuming at least based on their announcement, on Oct. 23.”

Much of the attention in the college football world shifted to the Pac-12 on Wednesday when the Big Ten changed course and announced it would attempt to play a fall season, joining three other Power Five conferences: the SEC, ACC and Big-12.

In the wake of the Big Ten’s announcement, Scott said in a different statement Wednesday, “At this time, our universities in California and Oregon do not have approval from state or local public health officials to start contact practice.”

Another key Pac-12 development transpired Wednesday afternoon, when Oregon Gov. Brown green-lighted the Pac-12 programs in her state, Oregon and Oregon State, to begin playing once the Oregon Health Authority received written plans from the conference.

“The universities have asked for an exemption to OHA’s sports guidance, just as Oregon’s professional sports teams have been given,” a statement from Brown’s spokesperson read. “We have granted that request, and, under the new guidance, OHA must receive written plans for approval.”

The conference’s efforts to return to the field have been expedited by a partnership with Quidel Corporation, which offers every Pac-12 school the ability to administer daily antigen COVID-19 tests – something that should help mitigate the spread of a virus that’s been linked to nearly 200,000 American deaths.

Still, there seemed to be significant roadblocks in California until the Pac-12 released its statement late Wednesday afternoon.

An official from the state’s health department spoke to Mercury News writer Jon Wilner to clarify the guidelines regarding practices and cohorts.

While teams in California are unable to hold 11-on-11 intrasquad scrimmages, the official suggested they can hold walk-throughs, practice against air or use Virtual Reality and tackle dummies to prepare for games, according to Wilner. Per the report, the official also recommended the use of “mental exercises.” It was also proposed that teams hold 5-on-5 scrimmages, Wilner wrote.

Despite the practice limitations, Pac-12 teams in California are still able to hold “full-squad, full-contact 22-man games.”

Wilner later reported members of Newsom’s office reached out to officials at USC and the plan is to “fast track” a revision to the 12-person cohort that caused confusion around the state and conference Wednesday.

Members of USC’s football team, including starting quarterback Kedon Slovis and star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, co-signed a letter on Tuesday urging Newsom to reconsider the state’s guidelines. A group of Oregon football players, quarterback Tyler Shough and receiver Mycah Pittman among them, penned similar messages to Brown. Cal quarterback Chase Garbers also joined the #WeWantToPlay movement Tuesday when the Big Ten’s return seemed imminent.

On Wednesday, Arizona’s football team, which already has clearance from its state health officials, wrote in a letter to Newsom: “We are appealing directly to you in support of our peers, hoping that you will once again hear our voices. We want to play.”

Washington State players were largely silent on social media Wednesday, but one of them, standout senior linebacker Jahad Woods, tweeted #WeWantToPlay, in support of a Pac-12 return.

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