*** The Pac-12 Hotline newsletter is published each Monday-Wednesday-Friday during the college sports season and twice-a-week in the offseason. (Sign up here for a free subscription.) This edition, from Oct. 30, has been made available in archived form.
The Pac-12 released three versions of its 2020 football schedule but seemingly will only need one for basketball.
It was made public on Thursday, with two important caveats:
The schedule doesn’t include non-conference games or tipoff times/TV networks, which are a few weeks away from being finalized.
Here’s what it does have: 20 conference games, not the traditional 18, with each team playing two in the pre-Christmas window. (The increase was planned before the pandemic.)
Also, the travel partners are intact, games will be played from Wednesday through Sunday (per usual) and the conference tournament is slotted for Las Vegas on the second weekend of March.
The master grid for 2021, in other words, shows nothing out of the ordinary.
But closer examination reveals two subtle tweaks and one significant exception — all of it designed to create maximum flexibility in case games are postponed because of COVID-19.
— Let’s start with the exception:
The conference removed the guideline that prevents teams from playing four consecutive road games and assigned that dastardly task to the Washington and Mountain schools.
Washington and Washington State will visit the Bay Area and Los Angeles schools on back-to-back weekends in mid-January, while Utah and Colorado will visit the Bay Area and Oregon schools back-to-back in late January.
“There was no way around it to get the flexibility,’’ explained deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, who oversees men’s basketball.
Asked why the Washington and Mountain schools drew the assignment, Zaninovich said “it just happened that way” but the four impacted head coaches “were great about it.”
— Now, the two subtle shifts to create options for makeup games.
1) The final weekend of the regular season, March 6 and 7, features one game for each team — against its travel partner.
That way, any series that gets postponed can be added at the end.
For instance, Cal and Stanford could play makeup games in Arizona on Wednesday and Friday of the final week, then play the single game against each other on Sunday.
(Everyone is prepared for the possibility of playing more than two games in a given week.)
2) The pairings for several early-January matchups have been aligned with succeeding weeks of travel-partner games — if the former can’t be played, they can be folded into the latter.
For example, the Arizona schools visit Oregon in Week Three, then play each other in Tempe in Week Four; the Oregon schools also play each other in Week Four.
If the Week Three games are postponed, they can be moved back into the following week, when each team is only scheduled to play one game.
Another example: In Week Four, the Utah schools visit Washington. In Week Five, Utah and Colorado play in Boulder, while Washington and WSU play in Seattle.
If Week Four gets derailed, the teams would move the series to Week Five, with each playing three games.
“We wanted to make collapsible weeks,’’ Zaninovich said.
The conference has a Plan B, as well.
If COVID outbreaks prohibit games in certain regions, the Pac-12 has a schedule model ”in our back pocket” that features mini-pods, which could be played at available locations.
The reveal of the shell schedule on Thursday is just the first step, however.
Still to come: The women’s schedule (22 conference games); the tipoff times and TV lineup for both men and women; the non-conference schedules (announced by the schools); and the protocols for competition.
Those protocols include the arrangement of the benches, the minimum number of healthy players required, and tiebreaker protocols.
The NCAA is heavily involved in the planning.
“Our highest priorities are health and safety,” Zaninovich said, “and getting all the games in.” — Jon Wilner
Please note: The publication schedule for the Hotline newsletter will change next week. Expect an edition to land in your in-box before lunch each Monday throughout the season, with a full wrap of the weekend’s news and a look at the top storylines for the week ahead. The schedule for the rest of the week hasn’t been finalized.
• The programming plan for the Pac-12 Networks is taking shape. They will promote football, even if they can’t broadcast football.
• The combination of a new quarterback, new offensive line and retooled secondary has left us a tad skeptical of Oregon’s potential.
• Oregon State’s defense made remarkable strides last season. The trend must continue for the Beavers to climb above .500.
• Washington State experienced a series of unfortunate events as it prepared for the first year under Nick Rolovich.
• Will Jimmy Lake guide Washington back to the top of the conference it recently dominated? Only if playmakers emerge.
• The Tuesday edition of the newsletter focused on unanswered questions about Pac-12 football, including the schedule plan for Week Seven. Previous editions of the newsletter are available in archived form
Support the Hotline: Several Hotline articles will remain free each month (as will the newsletter), but for access to all content, you’ll need to subscribe. I’ve secured a rate of $1 per week for a full year or just 99 cents for the first month, with the option to cancel anytime. Click here. And thanks for your loyalty.
Nov. 2: Kickoff times for Nov. 14 games released
Nov. 7: Pac-12 football openers
Nov. 18: NBA Draft (New York City)
Nov. 24: First CFP rankings released
Nov. 25: NCAA basketball season begins
Dec. 16-18: NCAA early-signing period (football)
Dec. 18-19: Pac-12 championship weekend
Dec. 20: College Football Playoff/bowl selections
(Note: The Hotline newsletter includes links to sites that could require a subscription once the number of free views has been reached.)
• We’ll start at the end — the end of the season. ESPN’s bowl schedule was unveiled this morning and did not include Las Vegas. A note at the bottom of the news release stated the following: “A decision regarding the Las Vegas Bowl will be announced in the near future.” Two bowls affiliated with the Pac-12, the Redbox and Holiday, are on hiatus this year. The loss of Las Vegas — and a matchup with the SEC — would be a major blow to the conference’s postseason lineup.
• Case counts are rising and hospital beds are filling in Salt Lake City. But Utah’s home opener next week against Arizona remains on schedule, per the Tribune. (To that, we’ll add that the conference office is monitoring the situation.)
• Washington State nose tackle Lamonte McDougle has opted out of the season due to Covid-19 — he had it — and plans to enter the transfer portal.
• UCLA coach Chip Kelly — he of the $9 million buyout — is being evaluated by a fresh set of eyes: First-year athletic director Martin Jarmond.
• Meanwhile, the Bruins have suspended defensive end Steven Mason following his arrest for suspicion of domestic violence and child endangerment.
• Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla believes Colorado “has never belonged in the Pac-12.” And same, he writes, for Nebraska in the Big Ten.
• At least Boulder County officials are satisfied with CU’s health protocols for Nov. 7. Approximately 900 family members will be allowed to attend. (That’s less than two percent of capacity.)
• Arizona’s coaching staff has more gray hair this year following offseason changes. That could be a good thing.
• Oregon is looking for new leadership on defense after linebacker Troy Dye’s departure.
• The Seattle Times’ Mike Vorel takes a deep dive into Washington’s offensive depth chart and notes: “If you were a hoping for clarity at the quarterback position, you’ve come to the wrong place.”
• Speaking of quarterbacks: Davis Mills tops this list of difference makers for Stanford. (Makes sense: He’s the program’s best pure passer since Andrew Luck.)
• Cal’s list of impact players includes running back Christopher Brown — all 230 pounds of him.
• The left side of Oregon State’s offensive line needs a complete makeover, all while the Beavers break in a new quarterback.
• USC sophomore Markese Stepp has the potential to be a dominant tailback after recovering from an ankle sprain.
• Arizona State linemen Ben Scott and LaDarius Henderson are best friends. They’re also dueling to start at right tackle.
The Pac-12 announced a series of partnerships this week …
• The first was with Pacific Seafood, described by the conference as “a family-owned and operated company dedicated to providing the healthiest protein on the planet. One of the largest seafood companies in the country, Pacific Seafood will now serve as the Official Meat and Seafood Provider of the Pac-12 Conference.”
• Next came a deal with Pacific Premier Bank, which, per the conference, “will have a significant presence across Pac-12 Networks’ on-air and digital platforms and programming, including custom content and sports highlights.”
• The final agreement of the week carries the most visibility, at least as it relates to Pac-12 football: An agreement with Nextiva to become the league’s official communications provider. That means Nextiva, which is based in Phoenix, will have its logo on coaching headsets and the sideline communication equipment. Previously, that had been AT&T’s realm.
Three (more) Pac-12 football programs unveiled plans to assist athletes with branding opportunities once name, image and likeness legislation is approved …
• In Tucson, they have created the “Arizona Edge,” which will focus on “brand management, business development, financial literacy, networking and business law,” according to Tucson.com. The program will be run in conjunction with the Eller College of Management.
• In Salt Lake City, the Utes have enhanced and extended their partnership with INFLCR, a leading student-athlete content marketing company with a significant social media presence.
• And then there’s USC, which plans to take maximum advantage of everything Los Angeles has to offer from a promotional, branding and entertainment standpoint. The Trojans picked J1S as their partner and released this video. For everyone, the NIL game is all about recruiting.
What’s coming on the Pac-12 Hotline:
• Our teams previews will conclude in the next 24 hours with predictions for Cal and Stanford, which have more continuity, especially on offense, than many of their North division peers.
• ‘Saturday Night Five’ is scheduled for publication in its usual window, somewhere in the 11 p.m. range. If necessary, we’ll expand to six items.
• AP ballot will be available for your perusal (mockery?) on Sunday morning. Starting with the Nov. 8 ballot, Pac-12 teams will be included.
• Next week, we’ll have all-conference selections, bowl picks, our quarterback ratings, a look at the top newcomers and more.
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