Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday said there is nothing in the California guidance to prevent Pac-12 teams from playing, a statement that seemingly contradicts his own rules.
“There is nothing in the state guidelines that denies the Pac-12 from having conference games,” Newsom said in response to a question from the Bay Area News Group.
“There is nothing that denies the games from occurring.”
Newsom said he spoke this morning with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott.
“I want to make this crystal clear,” Newsom said. “Nothing in the state guidelines denies the ability for the Pac-12 to resume. That’s been a misrepresentation of the facts.”
However, state guidelines clearly prevent players from practicing in cohorts larger than 12, which makes football difficult. (See below.)
Crucially, Newsom said the state would be willing “to engage the Pac-12” on the rules governing cohorts — a development that could allow the teams to practice and compete.
“We’re committed to working with the Pac-12,” Newsom said. “Remember, these are student athletes.”
The conference is unable to restart its football season because of safety concerns and state restrictions.
The first hurdle should be cleared later this month, when rapid-response, daily antigen tests are delivered to athletic departments.
Those tests, designed to eliminate Covid-19 spread and keep infected players off the field, should lead to the Pac-12 medical team granting approval for practice and competition.
However, the California schools cannot move forward, even with the antigen tests, until state and local restrictions are lifted.
Currently, the Los Angeles teams cannot gather in groups of more than 12 for practice, making it impossible to play a sport that requires 22 players on the field at once.
According to Section 5 of the state’s rules:
“Physical Distancing Guidelines”
“Train in Cohorts. IHEs (institutions of higher education) should establish cohorts as a strategy to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19. A cohort may be composed of six to 12 individuals, all members of the same team, who consistently work out and participate in activities together. Cohorts should avoid mixing with other groups.”
(That passage is on page 31. Here is the link to the full guidance.)
The restrictions vary slightly based on local rules set by L.A. County, Santa Clara County and the City of Berkeley.
“Our universities in California and Oregon do not have approval from state or local public health officials to start contact practice,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said today following the Big Ten announcement that it would begin play Oct. 23-24, leaving the Pac-12 as the only major conference on the sideline.
“We are hopeful that our new daily testing capability can help satisfy public health official approvals in California and Oregon to begin contact practice and competition.”
Meanwhile, the NFL franchises in California are playing.
The Rams opened their season at home Sunday evening, but seven miles away, USC cannot play 11 on 11.
The 49ers opened at home on Sunday afternoon, but 15 minutes up the road, Stanford is prohibited from having more than two players touch the ball on any given play.
The antigen tests, made by Quidel, are more effective at reducing spread than the PCR tests used by the NFL, according to computer modeling.
“From a theoretical perspective, it’s a very high bar, and you could argue that what we’re doing is a higher bar” than the NFL, said Dr. Kimberly Harmon, a University of Washington football physician and key member of the Pac-12’s medical advisory team.
“The near-daily testing should keep the athletes safe.”
Until the public health restrictions are lifted, it won’t matter.
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