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January 4, 2012

Pac-12 schedule unfavorable for Bears

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The long-rumored changes to the Pac-12 football schedule have finally been announced, and for the first time, the annual Big Game between California and Stanford will be played not at the end of the season, not even near the end of the schedule; but square in the middle. While the venerable clash may be returning to a new California Memorial Stadium for the second time -- the edifice hosted the Big Game in its first ever contest in 1923 -- it will be making a big departure from its traditional date.

On what should have been a day to celebrate a big match-up with Ohio State and a return to a renovated California Memorial Stadium, all the attention is squarely on the now-Oct. 20 Big Game with the Cardinal in Berkeley, and other inequities that dot the Bears' 2012 schedule.

Sat Sept. 1 Nevada
Sat Sept. 8 Southern Utah
Sat Sept. 15 at Ohio State
Sat Sept. 22 at USC
Sat Sept. 29 Arizona State
Sat Oct. 6 UCLA (Homecoming)
Sat Oct. 13 at Washington State
Sat Oct. 20 Stanford
Sat Oct. 27 at Utah
Fri Nov. 2 Washington
Sat Nov. 10 Oregon
Sat Nov. 17 at Oregon State

"As a conference, we are undertaking many tremendous initiatives, most of which will result in positive contributions and significant improvement to the experience of our student-athletes, as well as benefit our fan communities," Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a statement. "Undoubtedly, one of the results is the addition of significant complexities to the scheduling process. I am very disappointed that these challenges have resulted in the moving of our rivalry game with Stanford -- one of the longest standing traditions in all of college football -- away from its proper place and time in the rhythm of the football season. I believe that college football is unique, in large part, because of traditions like the Big Game, and we believe that those traditions should be carefully protected.

"Although Cal and Stanford were opposed to the schedule that was ultimately adopted because of the placement of the Big Game, we remain a full participant in the conference's decision-making and governance process, working to ensure that our interests are fully considered. We at Cal are dedicated to assisting the Pac-12 in finding ways for future rivalry games for all conference schools to be protected. If that is deemed impossible given all the constraints, then we will be insistent that the burden is shared equitably across all institutions, so that no one school or pair of schools bears this burden alone."

The Bears will also not have a bye week during the 2012 season, and the official rationale for moving the traditional date of the game -- which has normally been played the week before Thanksgiving -- is muddied, at best, and pandering, at worst.

In a release, Cal Athletics explained the move thusly:

Playing the Big Game at the end of the regular season has been a Bay Area tradition for many, many years, one that fans and everyone within Cal Athletics would like to see continue. However, recent changes in the football landscape have made assembling a Pac-12 schedule more and more challenging.

The schedule for all conference games is decided by a vote of the league's athletic directors. For 2012, three football schedules were presented to the conference ADs for approval -- one with the Big Game on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Schedule A with the game on Oct. 20 and Schedule B with the game on Nov. 17. Both Cal and Stanford favored Schedule B and lobbied for its acceptance. While this version kept the Big Game on a more traditional Saturday late in the season, other dates for conference games were significantly impacted.

In line with conference policy, the schedules were put to a vote among the 12 athletic directors, and the majority vote favored schedule A -- which slots the Stanford-Cal game on Oct. 20.

The issue is not exclusive to the Big Game, as the scheduling complexity affects all games throughout the Pac-12. Among the factors making an impact are required bye weeks before Thursday-night games (there will be four such games next fall) and the number of available weeks to play a 12-game season between the Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekends.

Cal does not expect the 2012 schedule to be the norm, but rather an exception. This move, though, does now set a precedent for similar moves in the future. If Cal is not the school getting the short end of the stick, then surely others will.

It must be noted that no other traditional rivalry games in the conference have been moved. While the Trojans, for instance, do not play the Bruins on the final week of the season (UCLA will play Stanford), they do play Notre Dame -- another traditional rival. The Ducks and Beavers both meet in their season finale on Nov. 24, while the Utes and Buffs play their finale against one another on Nov. 23, along with the Huskies and Cougars, Sun Devils and Wildcats. The Bears will finish against Oregon State -- a week before the rest of the conference finishes play.

Cal included in its release that the 2013 and other future schedules have not yet been approved by the conference, and that the athletic department "will do its best to help ensure the Big Game will be scheduled as close to the end of the season as possible."

In summation: Big Game moved, a rare home Friday-night game, no bye, back-to-back early-season road games against USC and Ohio State and the distinct possibility that the improvements to Memorial Stadium -- according to sources -- will not be ready in time for the opener against the Wolfpack, forcing perhaps yet another off-campus game to start the season.

Apart from a marquee Friday-night dance against Washington -- each school is obligated under the new conference media rights agreement to host a non-Saturday game on a regular basis -- Cal comes out perhaps the Pac-12's biggest loser in the scheduling conflict.

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