The Big 12 is moving forward, for now. That was Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s sentiment Wednesday as he announced the 10-team conference would proceed with its plans to play a modified 2020 season.
“We have spent a week, and really it’s a culmination of the last five months, trying to ascertain the best path forward,” Bowlsby said on a conference call Wednesday. “We’ve done that mostly talking to our student-athletes and talking to healthcare professionals and scientists that are working in COVID research and care.”
The conference’s board of directors voted Tuesday night to go with a route akin to those taken by the SEC and ACC as opposed to the paths chosen by the Big 10 and Pac-12, who cancelled their fall seasons Tuesday. The Big 12 revealed Wednesday its updated 2020 conference schedule, and laid out protocols for how non-conference competitions would take place.
Bowlsby admitted the Pac-12 and Big 10 saw information similar to what was presented to the Big 12’s board of directors, including data on the potential for cardiac effects even in asymptomatic cases.
“The Pac-12 and the Big 10 are seeing much of the same information that we’re seeing, but our board believes in our scientists and has come to a conclusion that’s different,” Bowlsby said. “So have the leadership of the SEC and the ACC.”
As a safeguard the Big 12 decided to implement thrice-weekly testing for “high contact sports,” and added various cardiac tests like an EKG, a troponin blood test, an echocardiogram, and a cardiac MRI to the return to play protocol following any positive test by a student-athlete.
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Tuesday’s news was particularly big for coaches, including Texas’ Tom Herman, who said he was hopeful the conference would choose this path.
“Our guys are really excited,” Herman said. “We understand all of the health and safety challenges and appreciate everything our medical team is doing here, but probably the worst thing about all of this has been the uncertainty. It has been very hard on our players mentally, and they’ve done a great job fighting through it. When the conference comes out and says, ‘We’re committed to finding every way possible that we can play this season,’ I think that gives them a lot of pride, and it gives them a lot of confidence that, if they come out here and do what they’re supposed to do, they’re going to get to play this great game that they love.”
In this decision, Big 12 presidents and athletic directors weren’t the only opinions taken into account. Active student-athletes made their thoughts known to Bowlsby.
“Positives have to be dealt with very carefully,” Bowlsby said. “Follow up and return to play has to be carefully managed and appropriately diagnosed. I think what we’ve heard from our student-athletes is they’d like to play, but they’d like to make sure it’s safe.”
Those student-athletes included Texas’ Sam Ehlinger.
“We’re very happy that the Big 12 is following the medical advice that has been presented to them,” Ehlinger said. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to continue to practice and develop, and we hope that they continue to listen to our medical professionals and the guidance that they’re given. It’s been incredible to be involved in the process.”
Though there is reason for confidence in a season still taking place, there are hurdles still to be met in the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape. Bowlsby even admitted as much when he said good ideas from no more than two months ago are “garbage” today.
He also said there will be “bumpy spots” in the fall, but believed the conference was “very well prepared to deal with those things.”
Countless variables still remain. Will there be a College Football Playoff? There’s a CFP call this week, but Bowlsby believes it will be “a while into the season before all that is resolved.”
What if things have to shut down immediately?
“If we get to the place where it’s their considered opinion where we can no longer do that, we will be able to pivot very quickly to another course,” Bowlsby said.”
“Our advocacy is going to be for just as liberal of a treatment of eligibility issues as possible,” Bowlsby said.
Still a lot to sort through for Bowlsby and the rest of the Big 12, but “nobody has told (the conference) it’s poorly advised to go forward and do what we are doing.”
Game on, for now.
“Kids want to play,” Bowlsby said. “Coaches want to coach. We’d like to see a meaningful conference schedule that would include everybody playing everybody.”