One day after two of college football’s Power 5 conferences delayed their fall sports with the plan to explore the possibility of playing those sports in the Spring, the Big 12 Conference announced it would go forward with a Fall schedule of nine league games and one non-conference contest, with its Championship game set for either Dec. 12 or Dec. 19.
The decision, which was made as part of the continuing attempt to stop the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, is maddening for some corners of the sports world and is being embraced and lauded in others.
It also affects the conference’s other fall sports. Volleyball, golf, and soccer will play beginning in late August.
Along with its announcement to play in the fall, the Big 12 released its revised football schedule for the fall. The start of the conference portion of the grid has been delayed until Sept. 26.
The Big 12’s announcement came after the Big 10 and Pacific-12 announced Aug. 11 that they had canceled sports for the fall and were exploring playing fall-season sports in the spring.
The Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference also are expected to play a fall sports schedule in an amended form.
“We have spent a week, and really it's a culmination of the last five months, trying to ascertain the best path forward,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Wednesday. “The biggest argument is nobody has told us it's poorly advised to go forward and do what we are doing.
“Our medical professionals have told us, 'move forward, go slowly, make adjustments as needed.' If we get to a point where our doctors say 'you have two wheels off the track and you’re headed for a wreck,' we can pivot that day."
Bowlsby said the Big 12 was ready to defend its decision and any blowback from the media. The conference’s university presidents made the decision to move ahead after hearing from medical reps on its teleconference Tuesday, including a specialist in genetic cardiology from the renowned Mayo Clinic.
“Reasonable people can disagree on it,” he said. “The Pac-12 and the Big 10 are seeing much of the same information that we’re seeing. Our board believes in our scientists, and so do the ACC and SEC. I have better information and our presidents have better information than most of our friends in the fourth estate (media).”
Bowlsby said he understands about the doubts from those who are skeptical.
“I’d say we’re worried about (the potential problems), too,” he said. “We just believe that there are ways to make sure that our student-athletes are safe, that they have an array of options.”
Before deciding on a definitive direction, the league also solicited input from at least two players from each team, some of which were designated by the teams' head coaches, while some were appointed by teammates and some are captains.
A handful of those players had been COVID-positive and had specific questions about their own circumstance.
“We have to give (athletes) some answers,” Bowlsby said. “The safety, eligibility and financial aid are three areas where student-athletes really want some questions answered. They're going to have those answers well before (the) season starts."
The Big 12’s teams likely will test for COVID-19 on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Bowlsby said that he knows that there is a difference between clarity and certainty, especially in a situation that is as fluid as the spread of COVID-19.
“We found that what we thought was golden 60 days ago is garbage today,” Bowlsby said. “It’s an ever-evolving environment. We'll find ourselves in bumpy spots in the fall — there isn't any doubt about that — but I think we’re very well prepared to deal with that.
“I don't think we have certainty in this environment, but we have been able to get some clarity for our coaches and our student-athletes.”
Bowlsby said he doesn't know how many positive tests it will take postpone a game, but added that he will work with the coaches to determine that number before the season.
One thing that gives Bowlsby and the Big 12 some hope about the next 30 days is the presence of safeguards and procedures that the league’s teams already have in place.
“During the preseason camp, it's about as close to a bubble as you're going to get with college students,” he explained.
Bowlsby was asked about his level confidence that there will be a season and that will go off without a hitch.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “It’s hard to handicap those kinds of things. If anybody is around you that says they can accurately forecast what’s going to happen with the virus, they’re delusional.”