Pac-12 football to start Nov. 6; Mt. West targets Oct. 24

The Pac-12 is set to kickoff a seven-game football season Nov. 6 after it followed the Big Ten in overturning an August decision to punt on playing in the fall because of concerns about COVID-19. With the conference having secured daily COVID-19 testing for its athletes and been given the green light from state and local health officials, the Pac-12 CEO Group voted unanimously Thursday to lift a Jan. 1 moratorium on athletic competition. "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," University of Oregon President Michael Schill said. "The consensus opinion was the benefits of starting in the fall were much greater than the benefits of starting in the .. winter. "Things changed from the first time we addressed this issue." Three hours after the Pac-12 announced its return, the Mountain West did the same, using a tweet to say it is targeting an Oct. 24 start to an eight-game season. The Pac-12's men's and women's basketball seasons can start Nov. 25, in line with the NCAA's recently announced opening date. The football championship game is set for Dec. 18, putting the conference in play for College Football Playoff and New Year's Six Bowl selection - and the multimillion dollar payouts that come with them. A major college football season that six weeks ago seemed to be in peril, slowly crumbling away, is reforming and has a chance to be almost whole by November. The Big Ten reversed course last week, with kickoff scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 24. Not to be left out, the West Coast's college football conferences jumped back in Thursday with the Pac-12 and Mountain West deciding to give it go. The remaining holdout is the first FBS league to postpone. And that might not be for much longer. The Mid-American Conference university presidents are scheduled to meet Friday and will reconsider fall football. The Southeastern Conference begins play this weekend, joining the Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference and three others that have been up and running since Labor Day weekend. The season is ongoing but it has been anything but normal. There have been 21 games postponed or canceled since Aug. 26 because of teams battling various levels of COVID-19-related issues. This week, four games scheduled to be played Saturday have been called off, including Notre Dame at Wake Forest because of a virus outbreak among Fighting Irish players. The turning point for the return of sports in the Pac-12 came Sept. 3 when it entered an agreement with diagnostic testing company Quidel that will give each school the capacity to conduct daily antigen tests on their athletes. Still, it took three weeks for the conference to reverse course on fall football, leaving it starting later and scheduled to play fewer games than the other Power Five conferences. "I don't think we're behind," Schill said. "I think that we are acting deliberately. We are acting in the students best interest. We waited until we were able to if not ensure, protect their health and safety." Schill said state and local restrictions in California and Oregon to stem the spread of the virus made it impossible for six Pac-12 teams in those states to practice football and slowed the conference's return to play decision "Those barriers came down once the daily antigen test was available," Schill said. When the Pac-12 postponed Aug. 11, its medical advisers had recommended daily testing for athletes because of high rates of community spread of the virus in most of the counties where schools were located. Those rates have improved in most Pac-12 counties, but not all. "If this is not sustainable, we will stop playing," Schill. Daily testing should also decrease the number of athletes who end up in quarantine after coming into what would be considered a high-risk contact with someone who has tested positive. "Our goal is to not have a bunch of our student athletes get covid," said Dr. Doug Aukerman of Oregon State. There is still work to be done for Pac-12 schools to get the approvals of local officials in Northern California and now in Colorado. Due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, Boulder County officials Thursday halted gatherings for college-aged residents for two weeks and has said that includes athletic events. "We'll continue to work with our public health officials to comply with the public health order and be a part of the community solution," Colorado athletic director Rick George said. The one thing I've learned in this pandemic, is don't get too high and don't get too low." No fans will be permitted at Pac-12 sporting events taking place on campus, the conference said. The loss of ticket revenue and decreased number of games will cost Pac-12 schools tens of millions of dollars, but it could have been even worse with no football at all. "This has nothing to do with money," Schill said. "It was never once mentioned as a consideration. The losses that our schools are encountering, in particular our athletic departments, are huge. The amount of money that will be saved as a result of going back to play is tiny in comparison with the losses."
September 24, 2020

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic. One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah's Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25. This year's Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV. All teams, staff, officials and ESPN personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.
September 21, 2020

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men's basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified. The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program. Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports' governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme - including a former Adidas executive - by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville's contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added. "This argument is as novel as it is wrong," the school wrote in its response. "Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself." Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP). The NCAA's Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance. The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who's now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit's family. Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal's immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich. Louisville also dismissed the NCAA's contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools. "The enforcement staff's remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws," the response stated, "and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University's athletics interests. "For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff's dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation."
September 21, 2020

UMass to play football this fall

UMass says it will play football this fall, reversing an August decision to postpone the season until the spring. One of few independents in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the school says it will start in mid-October. Games still need to be scheduled, which could be a challenge because most leagues are playing a limited number of nonconference games, if any. There will be no fans at any of the team's home games in Amherst. UMass was an occasional power in Division I-AA, now known as the Football Championship Subdivision, winning it all in 1998 and returning to the title game eight years later. But since making the jump to the FBS in 2012, the Minutemen have gone 19-77. They left the Mid-American Conference and became an independent in 2016.
September 21, 2020

Big Ten to begin play Oct. 23-24 weekend

Players were pumped. Coaches were stoked. Fans seemed relieved. Even the president was pleased. The Big Ten is going to give fall football a shot after all. Less than five weeks after pushing fall sports to spring in the name of player safety during the pandemic, the conference ran a reverse Wednesday and said it plans to open its football season the weekend of Oct. 23-24. "Let's goooooo!!!" Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields tweeted. Amid the celebration, a word of caution: This is still not going to be easy. "We can't emphasize enough that what we're putting forward still requires prevention, requires accountability from everyone involved from our student-athletes to coaches to staff to be doing the things to prevent getting this infection," said Dr. Jim Borchers, the team physician for Ohio State. "And our progress will be measured by their efforts but also we hope by the efforts to provide a clean competition and practice environment." All 14 teams will be scheduled to play eight regular-season games in eight weeks, plus have the opportunity to play a ninth game on Dec. 19 when the conference championship game is played. The College Football Playoff selections are scheduled for Dec. 20, which means the Big Ten's best should be back in the hunt for a national championship - if all goes well. If it does not, the schedule does not provide much room to adapt. Other conferences built in bye weeks, which allows time to deal with potential disruptions. The Big Ten itself did that back in early August, but now must go forward with a condensed schedule and signs that things could go awry. Across major college football since Aug. 26, 13 games have been postponed because of teams dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks. Some have not been rescheduled. The Big Ten is banking on daily testing to mitigate the risk of outbreaks and decrease the probability that a few positive tests will gut rosters when contact tracing sends players into 14-day quarantines. The Big Ten will begin daily antigen testing of all fall sports athletes, coaches and staff Sept. 30. The Big Ten is taking an especially cautious approach with those who do test positive: The earliest an athlete will be able to return to game competition is 21 days after a positive diagnosis, and following a cardiac evaluation and clearance from a cardiologist. "We're in a better place, regardless of how we got here or how painful it was during the time we waited to get this moment," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "That's all behind us. What's beautiful is that we have a process and protocols in place that's based on science and based on lessons learned since Aug. 11." The Big Ten said its Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously to restart sports. The vote last month was 11-3 to postpone, with Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska voting against. Still, the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania, won't be packed with 100,000 fans as is usually the case in the fall. Not even close. Tickets will not be sold to the general public for Big Ten games, though some attendance is expected. That's still an 80,000-seat stadium that we don't have," said Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who had estimated the loss of football would cost the school $100 million. The decision to play came after sharp pressure from coaches, players, parents and even President Donald Trump, all of them pushing for a Big Ten football season. The conference is home to a number of battleground states in the November election, and Trump swifly applauded the move. Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, chairman of the presidents' council, said the turning point for him on giving the green light to football - even though many students have not been allowed back on his school's Evanston, Illinois, campus - didn't come until this past weekend. "For me, it wasn't about political pressure, money or lawsuits," Schapiro said. "It was about the unanimous opinion of our experts. It evolved over the course of weeks." The Big Ten will take a bow, but the conference has been battered for a month and businesses in college towns from Nebraska to Maryland have lost millions in sales. First-year Commissioner Kevin Warren was the main target, criticized for a lack of communication and not providing enough information to back the initial decision. "We have passionate athletes. We have passionate families and we have passionate fans," Warren said of the blowback. "And so I take that from a positive standpoint." The Big Ten postponed fall sports just six days after unveiling a modified, conference-only schedule that was set to begin Labor Day weekend, and indicated it would try to make up the season in the spring. But there was no plan in place and the reaction included criticisim from the president. "I called the commissioner a couple of weeks ago and we started really putting a lot of pressure on, frankly," Trump recalled Wednesday. "There was no reason for it not to come back." Trump also took aim at the lone Power Five conference not yet scheduled to play: "There is no reason why the Pac-12 shouldn't be playing now." The Pac-12 followed the Big Ten in postponing play last month, but was far more detailed in its explanation and has more hurdles to clear. Half the Pac-12 schools are still operating under statewide restrictions that make it impossible for teams to even practice. The Pac-12 CEO Group is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the conference's options. As the Big Ten and Pac-12 bailed in August, the other Power Five conferences forged ahead, along with three other major college football leagues. Games have started, with the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference kicking off last week. The Southeastern Conference begins play Sept. 26. Alvarez said Big Ten teams can begin practicing immediately. "They never lost faith. They never lost trust. Their behavior through this time has been excellent, and they never stopped fighting," said Ohio State coach Ryan Day, whose team was ranked No. 2 in the preseason Top 25. The new schedule comes with a twist. On championship Saturday, the plan is to provide each team an additional game, matching teams by their places in the division standings: No. 2 vs. No. 2, No. 3 vs. No. 3 and so on. Alvarez said those matchups could be tweaked to avoid rematches. For now, the third Big Ten schedule of the year should be ready in about a week. Surely, it will rekindle excitement, but how much of it gets played is still uncertain. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said she supports the Big Ten's decision but noted COVID-19 "is still a very real threat." "We're all trying to do what we can to engage in some normalcy and keep people safe," she said. "There's not a perfect way to do this."
September 16, 2020

NCAA basketball season set to open day before Thanksgiving

The NCAA men's and women's basketball season will begin Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus. The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for nonconference games. "The fact our campuses will be clearing out, it will be possible to just further control the exposures, and the 25th gives us that opportunity," said Division I Council chair Grace Calhoun, the athletic director at Penn. The men's and women's basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, a Saturday. Calhoun said the council wanted to avoid a weekend start date because of potential overlaps of basketball and football games on campuses. The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. "The rationale was that during the season teams tend to play an average of two games a week, so the fact we're shortening the season by two weeks necessitated the reduction in games so we're not being counterproductive and trying to jam more in a shortened season," Calhoun said. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13. Calhoun said the low minimum is an acknowledgement that schools probably will experience different levels of COVID-19 cases and have to alter schedules. "We fully anticipate there are going to be some issues as we go through the season, much like we've seen in football, so we want there to be flexibility for institutions to put together seasons," she said. Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14. Beginning Monday, teams will be allowed to participate in strength and conditioning and sport-related meetings and skill instruction for up to 12 hours a week, with an eight-hour limit on skill instruction. No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed. It also was recommended each team play a minimum of four nonconference games. The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant. The council also voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports until Jan. 1. In-person recruiting is prohibited during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed. Also approved was civic engagement legislation. Practicing, competing and other countable athletically related activities will be prohibited on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November each year, including this year's Election Day on Nov. 3. The Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee proposed the legislation to provide a day each year dedicated to increasing opportunities for athletes to participate in activities such as voting or community service.
September 16, 2020

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year's NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I. Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year's tournament. Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are "united in strongly pursuing this" in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year's NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play. "This is not a regular season," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. "It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship." Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men's and women's basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic. Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports. The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games - including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year - and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday's UAB-Miami game kicks off the season. "This is a time to think differently," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: "After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportuni
September 12, 2020

Florida State women's coach taking leave to be with ill mom

Florida State women's basketball coach Sue Semrau is taking a leave of absence to be with her mother, who is recovering from ovarian cancer, the school announced Tuesday. Semrau, who will spend time with her family in Seattle, has led the program for the past 23 years. She'll be replaced by Brooke Wyckoff, who has been an assistant for 10 years and associate head coach since 2018. "For the past several months I've found it increasingly difficult to commute back and forth due to the tedious and ever-changing restrictions due to COVID-19," Semrau said in a letter to the team. "I've prayerfully wrestled with how I can meet my family's needs and continue to lead our team. In these uncertain times, I haven't found an answer that works for everyone, but I always preach that family comes first."
September 8, 2020

Big Ten, Pac 12 pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

The Big Ten and Pac-12 won't play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, taking two of college football's five power conferences out of a crumbling season amid the pandemic. About an hour after the Big Ten's announcement, the Pac-12 called a news conference to say its season would be postponed until the spring. The Big Ten's announcement comes six days after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only football schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions. Instead, all fall sports in the Big Ten have been called off and a spring season will be explored. The decision was monumental but not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall. "The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward," Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. "As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall." Warren took over as commissioner from Jim Delany at the start of this year. A former longtime executive in the NFL, Warren walked into an unprecedented problem for college sports. During an interview on the Big Ten Network, Warren was pressed on whether the decision was unanimous across the conferences and if Big Ten teams could still try to play a fall season, as some coaches suggested Monday. Warren declined to answer. "We are very disappointed in the decision by the Big Ten Conference to postpone the fall football season, as we have been and continue to be ready to play," University of Nebraska leadership said in a statement. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said the Buckeyes would have preferred to play. "I wish we would have had a little more time to evaluate," Smith told Big Ten Network. Over the last month, conferences have been reworking schedules in the hopes of being able to buy some time and play a season. The Big Ten was the first to go to conference-only play, doing it in early July. The Pac-12 followed two days later and eventually all the Power Five conferences switched to either all conference play or mostly. The first FBS conference to pull the plug on a fall season was the Mid-American Conference on Saturday, and then the Mountain West did the same on Monday. But those conferences don't have the revenue, reach and history of the Big Ten, which seemed positioned to pour resources into trying to protect their athletes from getting and spreading COVID-19. The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse. The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest. The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members. The Pac-12's members are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
August 11, 2020



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