Merton Hanks starts his day as he ends it: Wondering how many Pac-12 football games will be played on Saturday.
In between, the Pac-12’s chief of football operations spends his time evaluating COVID-19 test results from teams across the conference and pondering the moves available on his chessboard.
That board is seven rows deep by 12 rows across and is topped by logos of Ducks and Bears and Buffaloes.
It’s a schedule grid.
The Pac-12 released one in January, as usual.
It unveiled a revised version in late July.
And it released a third — the seven-game dice roll currently underway — in early October.
By the time the 2020 season is completed, there could be almost as many editions of the Pac-12 schedule as there are versions of the iPhone.
No game is safe from COVID-19, as we saw last week when Utah-Arizona and Cal-Washington were declared no contests.
“Flexibility is absolutely the key, but it’s all subject to who is available to play,’’ Hanks told the Hotline on Wednesday. “The timing is crucial. There’s a significant operational component.”
That became clear last week when, according to sources, Utah was forced to cancel on Friday.
Arizona and Washington discussed moving up their Week Three matchup, but logistical issues created a challenge: Arizona’s equipment truck was already headed to Salt Lake City.
“The Pac-12 is vast,’’ Hanks said.
For all the challenges posed by geography, Hanks left no doubt that the conference will consider all options each week if games are disrupted.
That includes matching cross-division opponents not currently scheduled to play each other.
Who knows. Maybe we’ll get to see Oregon-USC in the regular season, after all.
“We’re in an outside-the-box year,’’ Hanks said. “To stay married to tradition would hinder our mission, which is to honor our health-and-safety edict and make every effort to get as many games in as possible.”
The shuffling could begin this weekend.
If Utah and Cal are forced into no contests again, UCLA and Arizona State could meet in Tempe on Saturday night, instead of Dec. 5 as currently scheduled.
The Bruins don’t have a chartered flight reserved or hotel booked, because they’re expecting to play at home.
But Utah has a flight booked to Los Angeles and Cal has a hotel reserved in Phoenix.
“If Team A can’t play Team B but Team C can play, then you can take Team A’s hotel and use it for Team C,’’ Hanks explained. “We have to build in a mechanism to allow time for the swap.”
That means resolution on Wednesday or Thursday, not Friday.
And it means everyone must be ready to adjust at all times.
By everyone, of course, we mean the head coaches.
If they resist late-minute changes … if they claim inadequate time to prepare … if they refuse to make unexpected road trips … precious opportunities will be lost.
Key point: The conference is committed to keeping the 2021 schedule intact.
Although unlikely, it’s possible that a cross-division game could be created this season in the aftermath of a cancellation — and that it will be played in the same stadium as the matchup already scheduled for next season.
“If you have to go to an opponent in ’21 and the circumstances are such that you have to play them there this year, teams have to be okay with that,’’ Hanks said.
Nobody is in the mood for complaints.
Hanks addressed several other topics Wednesday, including:
— The need for contact tracing (and quarantines) despite daily testing.
“The only thing I can say is that we’ll continue to do everything we can to mitigate risk with our daily antigen testing, followed by a PCR. But we’re always subject to health-and-safety regulations” at the local level.
— The officiating in Week 1.
Although there were a few areas to “nitpick,” he saw no egregious situations and termed it “good work overall.”
— The postseason requirements.
For 2020 only, the NCAA waived the requirement that teams have a .500-or-better record to qualify for a bowl berth.
But the Pac-12 athletic directors rejected the waiver, voting instead for continuity: Any team with a losing record is ineligible.
“There was consensus from the AD group,’’ Hanks said.
— On the potential for additional 9 a.m. (Pacific) kickoffs this season:
“There is interest among certain institutions,” he said. “Frankly, this is the year to try these things.”
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