- “If anybody is around that tells you they can accurately forecast what’s going to happen with the virus,” Bowlsby said, “they’re delusional.”
- Wednesday’s decision removes a cloud of uncertainty hanging over each Big 12 athletic department.
- It’s still unclear whether the College Football Playoff will happen this season. The Big 12 still plans on holding the league championship game.
The Spanish Flu and two world wars couldn’t stop the University of Texas from playing football. So far, COVID-19 can’t, either.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced Wednesday the league would continue to move forward on starting the season and even released a new schedule. Athletes will now be tested three times per week, and anyone who tests positive will get additional heart tests.
All of this could change tomorrow, but for now, the Longhorns, Sooners and everyone in the league can still look forward to a 10-game season.
“This is so dynamic and evolving so quickly, if you decide to pull the plug today, you can’t get that decision back,” interim Texas President Jay Hartzell said an interview with the American-Statesman. Patience is what all Big 12 officials have been stressing in recent weeks.
“But if we keep going like we’re going, planning to the best of our abilities with the students in mind,” Hartzell said, “we’re going to have the ability to make decisions as things unfold.”
Texas will play its lone non-conference game at home against UTEP on Sept. 12, UT athletic director Chris Del Conte confirmed Wednesday. The Big 12 opener is Sept. 26 against Texas Tech in Lubbock. The annual Texas-Oklahoma game is still scheduled for Oct. 10 in Dallas.
“Our medical professionals have said, ‘Go forward, move slowly, make small adjustments. constantly be vigilant about changes in the environment,’” Bowlsby said during a conference call with reporters. “That’s what we’re listening to. And they have told us that it’s safe to move forward on that basis. When tell us otherwise, we will be listening to that as well.”
Those around the Big 12 rejoiced while those in the Big Ten and Pac-12 had to be steaming. Those two leagues canceled fall sports on Tuesday. “I had been very hopeful that the Big 12 would come to this decision,” Texas coach Tom Herman said.
Meanwhile in Columbus, Ohio State coach Ryan Day told reporters, “I gave myself last night to throw a pity party, but I woke up today and got back to work. Because that’s what life is, and that’s what sports are.”
Bowlsby said the overwhelming feeling from athletes around the league was they wanted to play. The commissioner spoke with Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger and safety Caden Sterns.
“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,” Ehlinger said in a statement.
Said Sterns: “It’s been good that the Big 12 has allowed us to be involved in the process, because there is obviously a lot of uncertainty. And for us to get some sort of an answer, that helps ease our minds.”
None of this happens if the Big 12 Board of Directors — the league’s 10 university presidents — doesn’t sign off on the decision. The group met virtually Tuesday night and heard from medical professional for about 90 minutes. No formal action was taken, but the decision was made to keep going.
So why is it safe to play in the Big 12 but not in the Pac-12 or Big Ten?
“Reasonable people can disagree on it,” Bowlsby said. “The Pac-12 and the Big Ten 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, and so has the leadership of the SEC and the and the ACC.”
In the end, it comes down to risk appetite. Bowlsby said his league has “a combination” of conservatives and those willing to go further. “We believe that the people advising us have our best interests at heart and we are going to follow their instructions explicitly.”
All of this comes at a particularly pivotal time in Hartzell’s professional life.
UT’s interim president participated in the Big 12’s Tuesday night discussions and then learned Wednesday he was indeed the sole finalist for the job. The UT System Board of Regents moved one step closer to making Hartzell the 30th president in university history.
“We kept coming back to what’s best for the student-athletes from a very holistic point of view,” Hartzell said. “We think they wanted to play, if it could be done safely. But we spent a lot of time on how could we mitigate this risk for student-athletes.”
UT administrators have been adamant in their belief the school can have fall sports like football, volleyball and soccer and keep athletes safe. Increased testing will help. Those who test positive will receive “an EKG, troponin blood test, echocardiogram, and cardiac MRI,” the league said.
Bowlsby said each team is responsible for their own testing. Texas has signed an agreement with Austin-based start-up Campus Health Project. The company’s CEO Chuck Brady said that having a tight turnaround time on testing is doable “but requires a lot of logistics.” Brady also said it comes with a premium cost.
What’s more, Texas officials said Wednesday that of the more than 11,000 courses offered on campus, only 15.4% will be in person. Of total unique registrations, UT estimates that 77% of the classroom attendees will be online.
The campus is likely to be empty this fall, an important point for those looking to keep players away from parties and mischief.
Wednesday’s decision removes a cloud of uncertainty hanging over each Big 12 athletic department. Now, the fall sports can press forward. Bowlsby later told the American-Statesman that there’s no reason why basketball can’t start on time, either.
“It has been very hard on our players mentally, and they’ve done a great job fighting through it,” Herman said.
Herman said that whenever the conference shows its commitment, “I think that gives (the players) 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.”
Bowlsby made it sound like it was either try to press forward or cancel everything all together. He did not favor spring football, something the Big Ten is going to try. “Well, I have never thought that that preemptively moving to the spring made a lot of sense,” Bowlsby said.
It’s still unclear whether the College Football Playoff will happen this season. The Big 12 still plans on holding its league championship game at AT&T Stadium in December. Frankly, planning anything beyond August or even September at this point feels like a fool’s errand.
So, Texas will keep practicing. For now, the season is on.
“If anybody is around that tells you they can accurately forecast what’s going to happen with the virus,” Bowlsby said, “they’re delusional.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.