EUGENE — Pac-12 sports are one step closer to returning in Oregon.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority granted a request from the University of Oregon and Oregon State University athletic departments for an exemption to OHA’s sports guidance, according to a spokesman for Brown.

“Governor Brown today is meeting with firefighters, first responders, and members of the incident management teams who have been on the frontlines working to save Oregonian lives and homes from the devastation of wildfires,” said Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Gov. Brown. “Representatives of the University of Oregon and Oregon State University athletic departments met with the Oregon Health Authority this afternoon to discuss their COVID-19 health and safety plans for their football teams. The universities have asked for an exemption to OHA’s sports guidance, just as Oregon’s professional sports team have been given. We have granted that request, and, under the new guidance, OHA must receive written plans for approval.

"Let me stress that, up to this point, we have received no written operating procedures for approval from the Pac-12 for the upcoming season under the new guidance, and we have no details from the conference about their new rapid testing proposal. Until we have those details, we can’t move forward in the process.

“We want Oregon and Oregon State’s players to be able to focus on football while protecting their health and safety. We also want to ensure that team practices will not be derailed by a COVID-19 outbreak that would threaten the health not only of the players and coaches, but of their university communities and the wider communities in Eugene and Corvallis.”

The language to the exemption for UO and OSU is as follows:

OHA Sports Exemption for Pac-12 Conference Institutions

Pac-12 Conference teams wishing to play in the State of Oregon must submit protocols to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Governor’s office to ensure training, competition and play aligns with all public health guidance and county phase requirements. Training, competition and play cannot resume until protocols are reviewed and approved by the Governor’s office and OHA. Pac-12 Conference sports that are practiced and played within the State of Oregon are exempt from all other sports guidance issued, including the Statewide Collegiate, Semi-Professional, and Minor League Sports, Limited Return to Play guidance. Pac-12 Conference sports teams are expected to adhere to the standards developed by each of their leagues around practice, playing, contact tracing, testing, quarantine and any other applicable area of consideration, including protocols approved by OHA and Governor’s Office. Pac-12 Conference sports events that are played in Oregon must comply with the OHA Phase Two Reopening Guidance – Venue and Event Operators.

The exemption, once granted, will remove one of the major barriers to college sports being played in the state. Current OHA guidance does not permit contact sports, including football, to be practiced or played.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and campus communities will continue to be our top priorities,” Oregon athletics said in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “We had another productive conversation today with the Oregon Health Authority about the Pac-12 Medical Advisory Group’s protocols, and we are appreciative of the ongoing dialogue with OHA regarding the path forward.”

Officials with Lane and Benton County Public Health departments did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday evening about when UO and OSU athletics could resume contact practices and games.

Earlier Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that’s state guidelines do not prohibit the Pac-12 from playing college football.

“I want to make this crystal clear,” Newsom said. “Nothing in the state guidelines denies the ability for the Pac-12 to resume. Quite the contrary. That’s been a misrepresentation of the facts.”

However, California guidelines prevent teams from practicing in groups larger than 12 and a state public health official told the Mercury News that several workarounds to that restriction are possible, including practicing in smaller groups of players, offense or defense only, virtual reality and 5-on-5.

The Mercury News and Los Angeles Times reported Scott and Newsom spoke Wednesday, after which Newsom’s office contacted USC officials about revising the 12-person cohort restriction to practices.

“The Pac-12 welcomes today’s statements by Governor Newsom of California and Governor Brown of Oregon that state public health officials will allow for contact practice and return to competition, and that there are no state restrictions on our ability to play sports in light of our adherence to strict health and safety protocols and stringent testing requirements, including our recently announced partnership with Quidel which will enable daily rapid results testing," Scott said in a statement. "We appreciate Governor Newsom’s and Governor Brown’s support, the former of which is consistent with the very productive conversation that he and I had earlier today.

"Our California and Oregon universities will now each individually and immediately reach out to their relevant county public health officials to seek clarification on what is required to achieve the same clearance to resume contact practice and competition. We are eager for our student-athletes to have the opportunity to play this season, as soon as it can be done safely and in accordance with public health authority approvals.”

The Mercury News also first reported USC athletic director Mike Bohn and UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond held a Zoom call Wednesday night with Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials to clear the path to resume football practices and the county agreed.

On Tuesday, players across the Pac-12 took to social media to call on the conference and Govs. Gavin Newsom of California and Brown to allow the football season to be played this fall. Oregon’s Mycah Pittman and Tyler Shough, USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kedon Slovis, Cal’s Chase Garbers, Utah’s Jake Bentley and Arizona State’s Kedon Slvois were among those to voice their desire to play this fall, joined Wednesday by Arizona’s Grant Gunnell and Oregon’s Anthony Brown.

Pac-12 presidents and chancellors will hold a previously scheduled meeting Friday to go over the football and basketball calendars, among other topics.

A spokesman for UO president Michael Schill, the chair of the Pac-12′s presidents and chancellors, referred comment to the Pac-12.

Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes, via a spokesman, declined comment.

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