Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby on Monday, five days before his conference kicks off its season, did not paint an optimistic picture of college football in 2020.
"Forecasting with any precision [how the season will go] is a fruitless exercise," he said on a media conference call that kicked off the Big 12's regular season. "We could find ourselves in the same situation as the Big Ten and Pac-12 are in later in the season," he added. "We are not injecting any bravado about it."
Bowlsby was referring to those conferences' decisions to postpone their seasons until spring 2021. It may not matter.
"The scientists we've talked to have told us to expect for [COVID-19] to extend into two years," Bowlsby said, indicating the impact could last well into 2021.
Bowlsby may be the commissioner speaking with the most candor through the pandemic. He has warned for several months that "disruptions" due to COVID-19 will interrupt the fall college football season.
One of his own teams (TCU) had to postpone its season opener with SMU -- it was to be played this Friday -- due to COVID-19 concerns. That decision was made shortly before the Big 12 on Friday became the first conference to establish in-season postponement protocols.
"I don't think TCU-SMU will be the last one we won't be able to play," Bowlsby said. "I've said … to others, 'We will have disruptions.' … This is not a time when you can state with any sort of veracity [that] you're going to play all your games."
There are billions of dollars tied up in TV rights revenue with FBS conferences. That explains, in part, why 76 of those members have chosen to play in the fall. Divisions below the FCS and other collegiate organizations (NAIA, junior college) have moved their football championships to the spring.
All 10 FBS conferences (six playing in fall, four hoping to play in spring) have committed to shortened seasons to mitigate the impact of the virus. The Big 12 has three bye weeks built into its schedule to address those concerns. It has moved its championship game back to as late as Dec. 19. Both the Big 12 and ACC start their seasons this week.
Within the Big 12 footprint, COVID-19 positives have spiked recently in Iowa. Texas has been a hotspot for a while.
The decision on when and whether to play has caused a national discussion in itself. The Big 12 announced Aug. 12 it would play a fall season following a similar announcement by the SEC.
That was a day after the Big Ten and Pac-12 committed to canceling their fall seasons and attempting to play next year.
Bowlsby addressed what has become a tipping point in the reasoning for all the conferences: Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, can be a long-term side effect of contracting COVID-19.
CBS Sports reported myocarditis was a key reason in the Big Ten's postponement. The Big 12, citing the advice of a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, downplayed the impact of the affliction.
"We feel like we got the best advice we could possibly get," Bowlsby said. "… We're a long way from declaring we know more about it than anybody else. I don't know if there is anybody who can rightfully say they have all the answers."
The uncertainty extends everywhere. Within the state of Indiana, Notre Dame is playing this fall while Purdue (of the Big Ten) is not. Half of the Pac-12 (six teams) cannot even practice at the moment because of local health ordinances.
The Pac-12 last week announced what it called a "groundbreaking" partnership with Quidel that will allow it to soon administer daily point-of-care testing with almost immediate results.
Bowlsby said he is not sure even rapid testing will do the trick if the coronavirus is still around.d
"I don't know if there is a panacea," he said.
The Big 12 is one of several conferences to be testing three times a week during the season, including Friday the day before games.
- Elsewhere, the conference announced an anti-hate, anti-racism initiative. To that point, Bowlsby said there is an outgoing discussion whether teams will be on the field during the national anthem. Traditionally, college teams are in the locker room while the band plays the anthem.
- The Big 12 was also approached by private investment entities about a blanket loan that would cover all 12 teams to address a financial shortfall caused by the corona virus. Bowlsby said the league declined. The Pac-12 is reportedly contemplating a league-wide loan totaling almost $1 billion.