The Pac-12 did more than cancel the 2020 football season Tuesday; it shuttered competition in all sports for the calendar year.
That includes college basketball.
UCLA in the Wooden Legacy tournament? Not anymore.
Arizona in the NIT Tip-Off? Nope.
Utah in the Bahamas? Washington State and Arizona State in Honolulu? No, no and no.
The Pac-12 won’t play non-conference games in November or December. It won’t play any games, anywhere, anytime until January 2021, at the earliest.
To date, it’s the only power conference to shutter men’s basketball for the rest of the calendar year.
When the Big Ten canceled football on Tuesday — an hour prior to the Pac-12’s announcement — it uttered not a peep about basketball or any other winter season sport.
When the Big East followed with news one day later, it limited the shutdown to fall sports teams and left basketball untouched.
The SEC, ACC and Big 12 have been silent on the state of their hoops.
Make no mistake: The Pac-12 is dangling, alone among the basketball heavyweights in gutting November and December and, as such, vulnerable to criticism.
It looks like the conference doesn’t care as much as its peers.
It looks like there’s no will to plow forward.
“It looks like we’re disorganized,’’ Arizona coach Sean Miller told the Hotline on Wednesday.
“But that’s not the case.”
It’s not the case at all.
With so much media and fan attention fixed on football, key members of the Pac-12 basketball machinery have been working for months on a strategy to return to the court once the conference’s medical advisory committee signs off on the move.
Since late April, a working group consisting of 24 coaches, athletic directors, basketball administrators and other officials — two from each school — has convened every other week to plot a strategy for the restart.
They were updated regularly by the medical advisors — the same group that assessed health and safety measures for the football operation.
The coaches knew a November-December shutdown was a strong possibility.
They didn’t know the decision would come from the presidents on Tuesday, packaged with the momentous football news.
“It came a little earlier than we anticipated,” said Cal coach Mark Fox, a member of the basketball working group.
“But at the end of the day, the decision was based on science and medicine.”
The news was jarring to the public if only because basketball has been out of the Covid-19 spotlight.
The same concerns about commencing with physical contact in football — the lack of rapid-response testing, the restrictive local health ordinances, the unknowns of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart found in Covid-19 patients) — apply to basketball.
Yes, it’s played with small groups. But it’s indoors with loads of contact and a ball shared by 10 players and officials.
“If it’s not safe for football, which is nose-to-nose, to play before October or November, why would it be safe for basketball to do it, either?” Fox said.
“Basketball is a lot of face-to-face situations that are not just momentary breaks of social distancing.”
The advisory committee believes an improvement in testing and decline in community spread could come to the Pac-12 footprint in the late fall, and the Jan. 1 start date for basketball competition was set with that possibility in mind.
“If you had a normal amount of strength and conditioning work, then you need a minimum of four weeks to practice for them to be ready,’’ Fox said.
With the absence of normalcy, the working group believes players will need two weeks of conditioning before a month of practice.
“We need to be on the court, for sure, by Thanksgiving,” Fox said, in order to hit the early-January start window.
The Pac-12 probably won’t remain the only power conference to cancel all games in 2020. Non-conference matchups are unlikely to be played anywhere.
Travel is risky. The difference in testing standards between conferences is worrisome. What if a player gets sick 3,000 miles away?
Within six weeks, the Pac-12 probably will have company.
“There are things you know are going to happen with others, but they just aren’t there yet,’’ Miller said.
“A lot of conferences will move in the same direction as us. I think it will be an active September.”
The basketball working group, like its football counterpart, has focused on a return-to-practice strategy and a half-dozen schedule models, according to Fox.
Remember how the 2020-21 season was supposed to be the first of an era, the first with 20 conference games — two of them played prior to Christmas?
Well, teams might not play 20.
“We’ve talked about playing more than that,’’ Fox said. “There are a lot of options on the table.”
One of them — perhaps the most creative — is designed to leverage a Pac-12 tradition that many consider more detrimental than beneficial: the travel partners.
If you send one set of travel partners to play another set of travel partners, the result is a pod.
Bubbles and pods are ideal in the Covid-19 era, and the Pac-12’s pod plans — preliminary, of course — are next level:
House four teams in one location for a full weekend of round-robin play.
For example, imagine the Los Angeles schools are in Oregon.
Instead of two games in Corvallis and two in Eugene, all four could be in Eugene, thus eliminating the multi-campus exposure.
All four teams in the Eugene pod would follow the same health and safety protocols for the two doubleheaders.
To the greatest extent possible, they would be sequestered in every aspect.
And in theory, you could play more than two games in the Eugene pod:
For example, the Trojans could play Oregon on Thursday and Oregon State on Friday, then take a day off and play Oregon again on Sunday. (UCLA would have the opposite schedule.)
It’s a means of each team playing three games in one weekend at one site, with limited travel or exposure to the outside world.
Oh, and there’s another key piece: The women’s teams.
The USC and UCLA women could, in theory, join the men’s teams on the trip to Oregon and play a pod schedule against the Ducks and Beavers in Corvallis.
The travel risks could be further reduced by having USC and UCLA share a charter flight.
And if all four L.A. teams were on the road on the same weekend, it would take the pressure off their campus operations staff. There would be two weeks between home games for both the men and women.
The conference has no shortage of ideas or models to maximize the opportunity for a substantial basketball season — so long as it received approval from the medical team.
“We’ve talked a lot about this, and we’ve worked a lot on this,” Miller said.
“We’ve looked at every possibility. I think we’ll be ready.”
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