NORMAN, Okla. — The Big 12 is moving forward with fall sports and has a new football schedule — for now.
The conference’s Board of Directors agreed to proceed with fall athletic competition following a two-hour meeting with league presidents and medical professionals Tuesday evening. The conference joins the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference in pursing fall sports, while the Big Ten and Pac-12 are opting for a 2021 return.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the conference concluded after Tuesday’s discussions it was OK to go on as planned. The league formally announced its intentions to play this fall, Wednesday morning, accompanied by the release of its revised football scheduling model.
“The biggest argument is that nobody has told us that it’s poorly advised to go forward and do what we are doing,” Bowlsby said during a teleconference Wednesday. “If we get to the place where our doctors and scientists say, ‘You know what, you guys got two wheels off the tracks and you’re headed for a train wreck,’ we will pivot that day. And if it’s during camp, it’s during camp. If it’s during October, it’s during October. If it’s the week before our championship game, that’s when it is.
“Making adjustments on the fly are going to be part of this. But our medical professionals have said go forward, move slowly, make small adjustments, constantly be vigilant about changes in the environment. That’s what we’re listening to. They have told us that it’s safe to move forward on that basis. When they tell us otherwise, we will be listening to that as well.”
The Big 12 hopes to navigate the pandemic by enhancing its COVID-19 testing policies for its member schools.
The Big 12 is committed to testing athletes three times per week in football, volleyball and soccer, which the league considers "high contact sports." An EKG, troponin blood test, echocardiogram and cardiac MRI will be included in the league's return-to-play protocol for each new positive case.
"The increased season modifications build on OU Athletics' already well-established set of protocols to protect its student-athletes," said OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler in a statement. "The results speak for themselves, with only one positive football case since the start of training earlier this summer. The enhanced practices coming out of the Big 12 will only add to the important policies already in place at OU."
The nonconference opponent on each Big 12 football’s program schedule will have to adhere to the Big 12’s testing standard the week of their game, the league announced. It will not have as much of an effect on the Big 12’s volleyball or soccer teams, which will play a conference-only schedule starting in September.
The Big 12 plans to play football next month as well, beginning conference play on Sept. 26 and finishing the season with the Big 12 Championship Game on either Dec. 12 or 19.
OU is slated to face Missouri State for its lone nonconference game on Sept. 12. It will then open league action against Kansas State on Sept. 26 in Norman.
Aside from playing only one nonconference game, the Big 12’s football schedule isn’t much different from other years. The ACC and SEC have expanded to 10 conference games, while the Big 12 will play its usual nine.
And no, the Big 12 does not intend to expand solely for the 2020 season, like the ACC temporarily taking in independent Notre Dame.
“It's not in any of our plans at the present time,” Bowlsby said.
The Big 12 will leave stadium capacity decisions to each university. OU has yet to release any firm plans for spectators this fall.
The Big 12, with guidance from its medical partners, will give the season a try. Bowlsby acknowledged it can all change tomorrow or months from now.
“It's an ever-evolving environment and we will find ourselves with bumpy spots during the fall,” Bowlsby said. “There isn’t any doubt about that. But I think we're very well prepared to deal with those things, and so, I feel good about the decision going forward. I believe our board feels good about it and, and I think most importantly, we have some clarity for our coaches and our student-athletes.”