To accommodate for the perilously-contagious coronavirus, the Pac-12 has been rumored to start in mid-September with a 10-game, conference-only schedule, adding Arizona to our slate of games.
According to Bruin Report Online’s “sources”, the schedule would be further shuffled—instead of ending our season against UC Los Angeles, we might be looking at them to kick off the season with the full revised schedule to be publicized by the end of the week.
They cite two reasons for the move—to start the season with geographically closer opponents and to increase the odds that we get to play our biggest rivals.
In many ways, [UC L.A.] playing Cal and USC in the first two weeks makes quite a bit of sense. Cal and USC are two of the three closest opponents geographically to UCLA (sic), so it reduces coronavirus travel risks. It increases the chances of playing the games against its two traditional rivals in the conference -- two match-ups that could potentially generate the biggest television audience -- before any potential mounting risk that the season could be shut down prematurely.
I presume the geography reasoning is to play as many of the “safer” games as you can before you take on more risk and may have to consequently cancel your season.
I think the more compelling argument is to play your rivals first to ensure you get those important games and continue those streaks. The coronavirus already caused the cancellation of the 2020 installment of The Rivalry—the contest between Lehigh and Lafeyette that holds the record for most games in its series (at 155) and has been played annually without fail since 1896 for a streak of 125 years; where other rivalries paused during World War II, these two schools actually met twice per year during wartime.
While Cal and UC L.A. don’t have as many total games as other rivalries or meet-ups (with just 90 games), we actually have one of the longest uninterrupted streaks in college football (according to Wikipedia, but I question this figure) as we have played without fail every year since 1933 (and playing twice per year in 1943, 1944, and 1945). I understand why administrators would want to continue seeing us play the kid sibling of the UC system, face another team at odds with Under Armour (is the enemy of our enemy our friend?), and continue this uninterrupted streak.
And based on the logic for moving the UC L.A. game, it doesn’t take much to question if they would also move our other in-state rivals. We have played USC 107 times, with an even longer uninterrupted streak than our UC L.A. series—we have played the Trojans every year since 1926 for 107 games. I have to imagine it would be a priority to play this game in 2020 if at all possible.
As for our archrivals… With 113 match-ups, The Big Game is tied for thirteenth on the list of most-played series in Division I football and tied for sixth in FBS with the first game in 1892; the Big Game has been played without pause since 1946, meaning a 2020 game would the 75th-consecutive year of us facing the lowly Cardinal. Bumping them up to one of our first games would be one of the rare times in history that the Big Game won’t be played in November.
Let’s hope that it is indeed true that we get an updated schedule by the end of the week; but even then, there’s no saying how much of that will even come to reality.