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Pac-12 to potentially allow non-conference games after all

The Pac-12 reversed its course and is set to allow the 12 member schools to play a non-conference football game this season

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Oregon State at Washington Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well now we have it. Two weeks into the Pac-12 Football season and we’ve already made some major adjustments around the protocol set in place to be able to play this season during a global pandemic.

The conference, previously staunch in their saying they won’t allow non-conference games to be played this season, has reversed course and is set to allow the 12 member schools the ability to play a non-conference game if a league matchup is canceled because of COVID-19 issues. Multiple sources confirmed that the athletic directors have agreed to these terms but the presidents and chancellors must also agree, according to a report from Mercury News’ Jon Wilner.

The presidents discussed the issue on Tuesday, sources said, but it is not known whether a vote was taken.

The conference has already canceled five games and still has not seen the Utah Utes play a game this season because of the coronavirus. Cal and UCLA scheduled a game on two days notice after multiple cancellations this past weekend.

The report also stated that though there is a baked in way to potentially schedule non-conference opponents when a league game is cancelled, it doesn’t mean the member universities have to schedule a non-con game.

A source told Wilner that “we just want that flexibility.”

The conference scheduled a six-game schedule in six weeks, culminating in the December 18 Conference Title game. With Saturdays going by quicker and quicker, the cancellations saw Arizona and Washington miss out on a chance to play a game in Week 1 and then saw Cal and UCLA almost stuck without games before they cleverly scheduled a makeup game on Thursday night ahead of a Sunday contest.

That scheduled game between UCLA and Cal also forced the UCLA vs Oregon game previously scheduled for Friday, November 20 to be pushed back a day to give the Bruins another day of rest and preparation since they played on Sunday.

This news also comes right as the Colorado Buffaloes, arguably the biggest surprise team in the conference, is sitting at 2-0 and is in jeopardy of losing their Week 3 game against Arizona State, where a current outbreak of coronavirus cases has the Sun Devils without coaching staff members and student-athletes. The Buffs could potentially seek an out-of-conference opponent for a game, and you can bet some schools would be ready.

It makes scheduling sense but it also makes monetary sense. According to Wilner’s report, the money lost from an idle week, or a chance to play a game on national television costs millions for the conference.

Each game televised by ESPN or Fox is worth approximately $5 million — or about $425,000 per school.

Wilner also documented the issues that may arise from a non-conference opponent, stating some complexities inside of a non-conference opponent being scheduled but another league team having to cancel a game, leaving a healthy team without an opponent.

Again, the issue is best conveyed with an example:

At one point late last week, Cal needed a game (because ASU couldn’t play), UCLA needed a game (Utah couldn’t play) and Washington was concerned it would have an opening because of player quarantine issues at Oregon State.

Ultimately, the Beavers were able to make the trip to Seattle. But had they canceled, how would the conference have chosen which of the three healthy teams (Washington, UCLA or Cal) would not compete.

Multiple sources said preference should be given to division games.

In the example above, Cal and Washington likely would have been paired, with UCLA left without an opponent.

However, there is no official conference policy on the issue. And it might stay that way.

“We plan to maintain the position of maximum flexibility for conference office scheduling decisions,’’ a source said.

“The timing of cancellations, in addition to a myriad of operations data, will play determining factors in any scenario with three teams available to play due to game cancellations.”

There are a lot of moving parts and a lot to understand here — but one thing is certain: The Pac-12 seems to be doing things logically, and independently, which is important given their track record earlier this year.

And plus — now we could see Utah play BYU. Or any team play BYU, for that matter.

I’m here for that.