Pac-12 football is back.
On Thursday, the Pac-12 announced it will play a fall season starting on Nov. 6. Each team will play seven games with the conference title game scheduled for Dec. 18, which will allow the league to be considered for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The announcement also noted the men's and women's basketball seasons can begin on Nov. 25.
No fans will be allowed at games until January 2021 at the earliest, when the decision will be revisited.
This is quite the change from Aug. 11 when the conference announced it voted to postpone all sports through at least the end of the 2020 calendar year out of concerns about player safety and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It appeared as if the Big Ten and Pac-12 were in lockstep through much of the process as decisions were being made about whether there would even be a season. They were the ones who originally elected to postpone their campaigns until perhaps the spring while the SEC, Big 12 and ACC decided to attempt a fall season.
However, the Big Ten changed directions Sept. 16 when it announced it was returning for a fall season starting on the weekend of Oct. 24.
The Big Ten put a plan in place for eight regular-season contests and then cross-divisional matchups on the day of the conference championship on Dec. 19. The end date was particularly notable because the final College Football Playoff rankings were scheduled to be released Dec. 20.
At the time, that left the Pac-12 as the only Power Five conference not playing football in the fall.
Still, momentum for a Pac-12 return started building that day as Commissioner Larry Scott released a statement in response to updates from California Governor Gavin Newsom and Oregon Governor Kate Brown allowing for a return to practice:
"The Pac-12 welcomes today's statements by Governor Newsom of California and Governor Brown of Oregon that state public health officials will allow for contact practice and return to competition, and that there are no state restrictions on our ability to play sports in light of our adherence to strict health and safety protocols and stringent testing requirements, including our recently announced partnership with Quidel which will enable daily rapid results testing. We appreciate Governor Newsom's and Governor Brown's support, the former of which is consistent with the very productive conversation that he and I had earlier today. Our California and Oregon universities will now each individually and immediately reach out to their relevant county public health officials to seek clarification on what is required to achieve the same clearance to resume contact practice and competition. We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public health authority approvals."
The statement came after Newsom said, per Ryan Kartje of the Los Angeles Times, "I want to make this crystal clear. Nothing in the state guidelines denies the ability for the Pac-12 to resume. Quite the contrary. That's been a misrepresentation of the facts."
Still, there were protocols in place at the time limiting gatherings to 12 or fewer people, which figured to make football practices difficult.
Also of note was the decision from USC football players to write Newsom an open letter asking for the restrictions to be lessened so they could play a season:
Kedon Slovis @Kedonslovis
@gavinnewsom We have sat by for two weeks watching teams across the country play the game we love safely. Most schools have a fraction of the resources that our school and conference have provided to play safely. You are the only thing holding us back. Please #LetUsPlay . https://t.co/au4JZ5PNbz
With all of the developments, Heather Dinich of ESPN reported on the same day that "it's possible the Pac-12 can return as soon as late October."
A return to the field gives a number of talented teams the chance to once again compete for postseason spots.
When the initial Associated Press Top 25 poll of the 2020 season was released, Oregon (No. 9), USC (No. 17) and Utah (No. 22) were all ranked.