Pac-12 announces 22-game conference schedule for women's basketball

How a conference-heavy season won the day

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Las Vegas, Nev.—Aari McDonald (2) and Sam Thomas (14) of Arizona Women’s Basketball and Jazlen Green (10) of California Women’s Basketball in a quarterfinal game at the 2020 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament on March 6, 2020. Photo by Evan Brown, courtesy of Arizona Athletics.

Regular practice began on Wednesday, but Pac-12 coaches and players have remained in limbo about what kind of schedule they might play. That became a bit clearer on Thursday as the conference announced that women’s basketball would play 22 conference games in the 2020-21 season. That is an increase from 18 conference games played during most seasons.

Throughout the pandemic, the conference has repeated the mantra that decisions regarding sports would be made with the “health, safety and well-being” of the student-athletes as the central guide. With the 12 schools committing to daily testing of all student-athletes, one idea was that having more conference games would be safer since the testing protocols were a known quantity. Playing against programs with fewer resources was a concern since their testing protocols might not match those adopted by the Pac-12.

Some coaches also liked the idea of a 22 game schedule for other reasons.

“I've already been on record as saying I'm for the 22-game Pac-12 schedule,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said at the end of September. “I love the double round-robin and even if it was not a COVID year, I would I still want a 22-game schedule. I think that's fair. I love it. We play in a great conference.”

Others had argued that a 20-game schedule that mirrored the men’s slate and allowed the two teams to travel together would be the safer route. In that case, avoiding commercial air travel was the key component. With the two teams traveling together, the women’s teams at many schools would be able to take advantage of the charter flights that the men’s teams often use.

“I’m probably more for the 20 games,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said in late September. “The 20 games, trying to mirror the men—play on the same weekend, travel—then we’re chartering. It’s just the safest situation for the players.”

In the end, the argument for more conference games won the day. This will cut the number of non-conference games to as few as one game and one multi-team event.

The NCAA will allow women’s basketball teams to play 23 games plus one multi-team event or 25 games with no multi-team events this season. No exhibitions or scrimmages are allowed.

It remains to be seen whether limiting almost the entire season to conference games will be the safer route. As has been the case since voluntary workouts were allowed, different programs are following different guidelines even within the conference and sometimes within the same state.

While the teams will all be testing daily, several Pac-12 teams tweeted out photos and videos of indoor practices without masks on Wednesday and Thursday. Other programs have made a point of wearing masks in practice.

The Pac-12 has also announced that players’ families will be allowed to attend football games this fall, although most sports fans will be kept out of Pac-12 venues until at least 2021. Whether the families of basketball players will be allowed to attend games in November and December has not been announced yet.

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