How will the Big 12 successfully play fall sports? Answers from the conference commissioner

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a single rush on Wednesday morning, the Big 12 put itself in the “WeWantToPlay” category of college sports, opting to play fall sports after conversations among conference leaders and medical experts.

The Big 12 is positioning itself with the SEC and ACC as “Power 5” conferences intent on having a football season start in September. However, as with every other situation during the pandemic, the conference’s decision is fluid and could change as conditions change.

Commissioner Bob Bowlsby says the commissioners from all the major conferences have been in constant communication since the first week of March. He added that he’s talking with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and ACC Commissioner John Swofford on “a daily basis, if not more.”

Although, Bowlsby stayed away from the notion the Big 12 is in complete alliance with the SEC and ACC, saying each conference isn’t similarly situated and has to make its own decisions.

“De facto we’re in it together, but I don’t know that we’re locked at the hips,” Bowlsby said.

The conference commissioner described Tuesday’s meeting among Big 12 Presidents and medical professionals as a conversation with multiple dissenting opinions and discussions. The final conclusion was that the conference could go forward with the status quo.

“Nobody has told us that it’s poorly advised to go forward to do what we’re doing. If we get to a place where our doctors and scientists say ‘you’ve got two wheels off the track and you’re heading toward a wreck’…making adjustments on the fly is going to be a part of this,” Bowlsby said during Wednesday’s call.

After the Big Ten and Pac-12 decided to postpone the fall sports calendar, many classified the Big 12 as the swing vote for the season as the SEC and ACC were calling for more patience before making a decision to shut it down. As of August 12, the Big 12 is keeping the possibility of football in the fall open. However, Bowlsby said, if other power conferences also called off the season, the Big 12 would not play by itself.

On Tuesday, the University of Nebraska, a previous Big 12 member, released a statement saying it was looking at ways for its student-athletes to compete. On Wednesday, Bowlsby said the conference hasn’t had any conversations with Nebraska about playing games in the fall.

New release of conference schedule

As previously established, all Big 12 teams will play a 10-game schedule with nine conference games and one non-conference game.

The conference slate will start on Sept. 26. The conference expects all teams to finish its non-conference game before that week. Non-conference match-ups will be announced by each Big 12 school, the conference says.

Each team will have “a minimum” of two bye weeks with potential for a third bye week late in the season. Officials have tentatively scheduled the Big 12 Championship game for Dec. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Bowlsby says the location of the championship game may be changed, if it can’t be played on Dec. 12.

The conference says “stadium capacities will be determined by each member institution in accordance with local and/or state health ordinances, and working with government officials.”

If there is a fall football season with half of the FBS teams, how will it end? Can the remaining teams host a College Football Playoff? Bowlsby says the CFP committee is expected to meet next week.

Additionally, the Big 12’s soccer and volleyball season have been limited to conference games only and may not begin before Sept. 1.

Health protocols for play

Stating the obvious, the Big 12 will not be able to create a bubble on a college campus to protect student-athletes from potentially mingling with thousands of other students on campus.

The conference is boosting its COVID-19 protocols for contact sports — football, volleyball and soccer.

Members from those teams will be tested three times a week and there will be additional heart monitoring for athletes who test positive for COVID-19. Myocarditis, a heart condition, has been cited as a possible side effect of COVID-19. Student-athletes, who test positive, will receive an EKG, troponin blood test, echocardiogram, and cardiac MRI before returning to play.

Currently, the Big 12 says not all schools are using the same COVID-19 tests. Bowlsby says each school’s athletic director and a medical expert must sign an attestation before each game, certifying that nobody on the field or court has tested positive for COVID-19 in the latest rounds of testing.

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