There is growing optimism in the Pac-12 that the conference will reverse its announcing a start date in November or December, which is expected to happen Sept. 16.to ban college basketball from being played until at least January as long as two factors become reality. The first would be the league's medical advisory board revisiting and updating its recommendations to allow for winter sports competition. The second would be NCAA stakeholders formally voting for and
"I would be surprised if it stuck," one league source told CBS Sports, referring to the initial Jan. 1 return date for winter sports. "We're fighting like hell to get the presidents to reconsider their vote."
The Pac-12's Aug. 11 decision to prohibit all winter sports -- including men's and women's basketball -- from playing until January 2021 immediately caused irritation and confusion within the conference. The presidents sideswiped most if not all of their athletic directors and coaching staffs when the expected postponement of football and all fall sports also included winter sports.
"Everyone can see what happened with the decision and now it's: How can we save a little face?" a source said.
Bay Area News Group first reported the news of a potential Pac-12 reverse-course earlier on Thursday.
Said another source: "Everyone's going to be on pins and needles for the next month."
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At the crux of this matter -- according to sources who spoke earlier this week to CBS Sports but were not willing to be identified due to the extremely sensitive nature of this topic within the conference -- is the fact that the decision to postpone Pac-12 basketball until 2021 is yet to be fully explained. Athletic directors and coaches have not been told who specifically made the push to push back basketball. One source even said a school president has privately expressed that they felt they weren't even putting forth a vote on the fate of winter sports when the decision was being made about the fall.
"The presidents thought, This is easy," a source said. "'If they can't do it, or if one of them can't do it, then we all can't do it.'"
Another source said some presidents have since privately expressed their willingness to approve basketball for the fall, provided health experts sign off on it.
Sources said commissioner Larry Scott did not anticipate winter sports being on the proverbial chopping block before the Aug. 11 meeting, and after it became evident near the end of the meeting that basketball and other winter sports would be forced to sit until January -- almost as a toss-it-in decision -- he was powerless to reverse the decision.
"The one guy that can't duck it is Larry Scott," a source said. "He caved in."
Sources said Scott has smoothed things over with coaches and ADs to an extent in the two-plus weeks since the vote, most recently in a regularly scheduled Thursday morning meeting with all coaches and ADs. There is a feeling of positive momentum to change this decision.
"I think Larry feels badly it went that way," a source said.
There's more. The Pac-12's Aug. 11 basketball decision was made with haste and done, sources said, with the understanding that the Big Ten would make near-identical decisions. The Big Ten's announcement preceded the Pac-12's on that day by a couple of hours, only it didn't include anything with winter sports. Within 48 hours of the Pac-12 canceling basketball until January, sources told CBS Sports that all 14 men's basketball coaches in the Big Ten convened on a conference call and passionately voted 14-0 to send a direct message to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren that they did not want to see their league suffer a similar fate as the Pac-12's coaches.
"A few ADs got tipped off and said, 'Slow down here,'" one Big Ten source said. "You can't be more adamant with not aligning with that. That made absolutely no sense with our league in terms of basketball to align with the Pac-12. It didn't make sense with how important basketball is, with our feelings we can start a season (in the fall). We're also not in their footprint in terms of states either."
Added another Big Ten source: "What are we doing with the Pac-12? No insult intended, but those cities out there are in a lot more trouble [with the coronavirus] than ours. ... There's no communication from commissioners and presidents, none. Not even down to the ADs."
Most importantly, the focus remains on being able to safely and confidently return to practice and competition -- eventually. Pac-12 stakeholders want to see if good, recent news about advancements in testing can lead to a better situation by November. Everyone was insistent on safety and health measures. The Pac-12 could well prove to be correct and ahead of most other leagues on this issue, but the near-universal response in the league to the Aug. 11 decision on winter sports was that it came -- minimally -- a month too soon.
"Our coaches across the board in the Pac-12 are pretty much unified in how we feel," one coach said. "We want our players to be as safe as possible and we also want to allow science to continue to make advancements and see if there's a chance."
This lack of transparency has caused some uneasiness, but despite that, the moods of many within the league remain optimistic that the Pac-12's presidents can walk back their decision.
"We're part of the Pac-12 conference but we're also part of the NCAA," one source said. "You'd like to think those things should work together, but in this case they didn't."
Given that college basketball stakeholders are meeting this week and next to determine the best course of action to start a season -- with the initial goal being to start in November or early December -- the Pac-12 could well be forced to reconsider its action to this point. Otherwise, the rest of the sport, with the exception of the Ivy League, would be playing and leaving the Pac-12 to fend for itself, potentially losing all of its nonconference games as fallout.
"We're begging people just to hold on," one coach said of keeping his scheduled opponents from backing out. "Hold tight as more science is coming out daily. Just hold on and wait, and we'll all have a much clearer picture after Sept. 16."
Pac-12 coaches meet on a weekly conference call, and sources said the group has never been this unified, due to not only the pandemic but the way the movements for social justice and anti-racism in this country has forged a bond between coaches and their players and contemporaries alike.
The key steps going forward will be for coaches to align with their athletic directors, who in turn will continue to have conversations with their presidents. Those links will be crucial, as will communication with NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt, who is in effect running point on almost every meeting of consequence that is dealing with the start of the season.
"I think (Dan Gavitt) is doing such a great job from an NCAA perspective in that he's giving these committees and presidents, that there's someone operating behind the scene as a commissioner -- without the title," one coach said. "He's giving people confidence. It probably wouldn't circle back for the Pac-12 if we didn't start some momentum, whereas in football, they have nobody handling anything behind the scenes at the NCAA level."
Another Pac-12 source pointed to league deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich as a huge ally in this process.
"He's brought a real basketball acumen to our conference," one source said.
There's been frequent communication in the league all throughout the spring and summer, to the tune of weekly (if not more frequently) Zoom meetings. Which made Aug. 11 such a stunning day. At that point, Pac-12 coaches were so of the mindset that playing in November or December was still on the table, they were loosely tossing out ideas about trying to play games within a bubble within their conference if need be.
"Jamie is caught in a crossfire because he's doing really good work with our group," the source added.
It's believed the presidents from the four California schools (Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC) led the charge on pushing back hoops due to the ongoing crisis in that state with the coronavirus. California, the most populated state in the country, has had more positive tests (679,099, according to Thursday's latest data from the CDC) than any other state. Current circumstances don't bode well, but those circumstances could change. For California-based schools, they are not only remote learning for this semester at least, no one is even allowed on campus. Stanford, Cal, UCLA and USC have not had their players allowed to be in their weight rooms or practice facilities for weeks. Those schools are trying to reason with local governmental officials to change allowances in September, provided COVID-19 cases don't rise again.
"Nobody's moving forward with basketball season until the medical people feel like [it's safe]," a source said.
Community spread levels and testing availability are the two biggest factors for the Pac-12 looking forward to November.
One source pointed out a key dilemma that could surface with a re-vote: would the Pac-12 collectively be OK if most, but not all, schools voted to play, leaving one or two or even three still in limbo until January?
"The one thing about a lot of conferences is they want to be unified," a source said. "The reality is, depending on the league, within the league, that may or may not be able to happen. That's, to me, what's going to be the interesting thing."
Is it everyone or no one? Sources said some Pac-12 schools are preparing to take that conversation to places it's never been taken before.
The coaches and athletic directors have yet to make a truly united effort to appeal to all 12 league presidents, but at this point the message has been sent to nearly, if not all, of them that reconsideration on this issue is paramount.
"I would be surprised if our start date is Jan. 1 based on all of the factors," a source said. "Each of our campuses know more now than they did then."
Added a coach: "I feel very confident. I think our presidents are smart people and I think they'll see that we probably need to be in alignment with other NCAA institutions in terms of what's best for student-athletes and what's best for the game of basketball."
Pac-12 presidents have been meeting with increased regularity in the past few months, and one source said they have multiple scheduled calls in the next couple of weeks. At any point they would have the authority to invoke a vote and reverse their decision.