The Pac-12 cleared another hurdle toward returning to play Thursday, as the Los Angeles County Public Health Department confirmed it will continue not to have any restrictions beyond what's mandated by the state of California as relates to the USC and UCLA football teams.
"We have not placed other local restrictions or requirements so that means as long as the institution is implementing its athletic program in compliance with all the guidelines within the state document (which also includes a requirement to adhere to all NCAA directives), it is permitted in Los Angeles County," the health department said in a statement.
The official confirmation comes after athletic directors from both USC and UCLA met with county health officials via video conference Wednesday to discuss the protocols, as first reported by Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group. That meeting came hours after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said there are no restrictions at the state level that would prevent the Pac-12 from moving forward with its football season amid the coronavirus pandemic, which left only county and city restrictions to be sorted out.
The Pac-12 is hopeful it can start its season by the end of October, multiple sources told ESPN, but other hurdles remain.
"Getting the local county approvals as soon as possible would allow our student-athletes and our coaches to start what we think of as normal practice," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Wednesday in a SportsCenter interview. "And then, the best-case scenario is six weeks of practice, training camp, and starting end of October, early November.
"But that's still subject to county approvals, which we don't have yet. So that's the best case. And we're gonna do everything possible to play this fall if we can, play a Pac-12 championship game, and have teams compete for a College Football Playoff, if it's possible."
There had been a belief around the conference that teams would have to wait until the rapid tests from the Quidel Corporation were operational in early October before practice could begin, but there is growing optimism teams could ramp up workouts before then and begin padded practices once rapid testing is available, sources said. If that were to happen, it would give the Pac-12 a shot at opening the season in late October, which would likely allow the conference to be part of the larger college football season and eligible for the College Football Playoff.
The CFP has not outlined criteria needed for a team or conference to be eligible.
The Pac-12's CEO Group, which voted unanimously in early August to postpone fall sports until at least Jan. 1, is scheduled to meet Friday afternoon, sources said, where it will discuss a wide range of scenarios and receive input from the conference's medical advisory group. Its members are expected to discuss various scenarios related to what a conference football season could look like, and it's possible, though not guaranteed, a vote could be held to set the course of action.
"[Friday] is a chance to get everyone caught up on what's been a very dynamic and rapidly changing series of events over the last 24 to 48 hours,'' Scott told The Associated Press on Thursday. "We'll obviously have to decide soon, but I'm not necessarily expecting a decision [Friday].''
If the CEO group does vote, it will be contingent on receiving the necessary go-aheads from local governments -- notably, Santa Clara County and the city of Berkeley (home to Stanford and Cal, respectively) have not weighed in -- and potentially other factors related to public health and the coronavirus pandemic, sources said.
Santa Clara County released a statement Thursday saying state law requires Stanford "to submit a detailed plan in order to move forward with team sports."
"We will review the plan once it is made available, and welcome dialogue to determine whether or not there is a way to facilitate team practice and games (without spectators) in a manner that minimizes risk to players, team staff and the public similar to what has been accomplished with professional sports teams in Santa Clara County."
While Newsom said the state has nothing in place that would restrict the teams in California from playing, the state's interim guidelines for collegiate athletics still include a mandate that teams can practice only in cohorts of 12 or less.
That means, for now, full 11-on-11 scrimmages necessary to prepare for a season would not comply with the state's guidelines. But after Newsom's public comments, schools are confident the guidelines won't ultimately serve as a barrier to having a season and could be amended to something more practical in the coming days. The cohort guideline does not apply to games, only practice, according to a spokesperson from the California Health and Human Services Agency.