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Friday August 14th, 2020 7:32AM

Pac-12 sets Sept. 26 start for 10-game football schedule

By The Associated Press
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The Pac-12 set Sept. 26 as the start date Friday for its 10-game, conference-only football schedule, joining the Southeastern Conference in pushing back its season by three weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pac-12 announced July 10 it would eliminate nonconference games to give its 12 member schools a better chance to manage complications and disruptions caused by the health crisis. The plan approved by university presidents adds an additional cross-divisional game to each team’s slate, creates two open dates and moves the conference championship game back two weeks from Dec. 4 to Dec. 18 or 19.

The title game, originally set to be played for the first time at the new NFL stadium in Las Vegas, will now be hosted by the division winner with the best record. The two-year deal with Las Vegas and the Pac-12 will instead begin in 2021, Commissioner Larry Scott said.

Each team will have one off week built into its schedule and the weekend of Dec. 12 all teams are scheduled off so it can be used for potential make-up games.

The conference also plans to start the season with a couple of rivalry games usually saved for the end: USC will play UCLA at the Rose Bowl and Arizona meets Arizona State on Sept. 26 — if they can play.

“We've got two opportunities for each team to potentially reschedule,” Scott said. “Or delay the start. We realize there are some markets that don't have the requisite state approval to start (practice) on time.”

California and Arizona have been among the hardest hit by a surge in COVID-19 cases over the last month.

Asked if he believed a college football season will happen, Scott said: “I don't know. I think we are all trying to take a step at a time. We are cautiously optimistic as we sit here today.”

The Pac-12′s schedule announcement is the third for a Power Five football conference in as many days, following the Atlantic Coast Conference and the SEC. The ACC said it would play 10 conference games and give schools the opportunity to play one nonconference game. The SEC, like the Pac-12 and Big Ten, is playing only within the conference.

“We're all making our own decision, but I think you're seeing everyone arrive at a similar place with its own nuance,” Scott said. “We preserved the possibility of bowl games. We preserved the possibility of a College Football Playoff because we all have stayed in sync.”

Still to come from the Power Five is a reworked schedule from the Big Ten, which was the first major-college football conference to announce its teams would only play within the league, and a scheduling decision from the Big 12.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren sent a letter to the conference’s athletic directors dated July 30 saying the conference would decide within the next five days whether its schools can start preseason practice.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, said the league expects new conference-only schedules for all fall sports to be released in August.

“While we remain hopeful for a start in September 2020, flexibility has been created within our scheduling models to accommodate necessary adjustments,” Warren wrote. “Consistent with our collective need to be adaptable to changes in circumstances and evolving medical knowledge, even issuing a schedule does not guarantee that competition will occur.”

The college football season was set to begin in earnest on Labor Day weekend. The NCAA is permitting teams to begin preseason practice 29 days before the date of their originally scheduled season-opener, which would be next week for most of the Bowl Subdivision.

Several Pac-12 schools, including USC, UCLA and California, are currently operating under restrictions set by local authorities to slow the spread of coronavirus that prevent football teams from practicing. Others Pac-12 schools are not facing those hurdles. Managing potential competitive disadvantages in preparation was essential for the Pac-12, Stanford coach David Shaw said.

“Trying to find a way for things to be as equitable as possible, but also as understanding as possible that some places are going to be different from other places,” Shaw said.

Pac-12 football programs will be allowed Monday to begin 20 hours per week of mandatory team activities, which include strength and conditioning, meetings, and non-contact walk-throughs. Full-blown preseason practices can open Aug. 17 in the Pac-12.

“Everybody can start as early as Aug. 17 but it’s not my expectation that everyone will start or manage their 25 (practices) the same way,” Scott said. “If schools can't start then and can't get a safe on-ramp of preparation for the season, then we will re-evaluate like everything about this.”

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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