A select group of Big 12 athletic directors have been directed with one of the most profound duties of the coronavirus-impacted season: playing God when it comes to deciding whether a game should go on as scheduled.
The subcommittee of five ADs -- from Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, TCU and West Virginia -- is in the early stages of setting thresholds for postponements, cancellations and even forfeits. Their recommendations will go through several filters as coaches, players, other ADs and the commissioner will have input.
At least on the Power Five level, all conferences will be compelled to make similar decisions. The task of coming to an agreement on what it would take to call off a game because of COVID-19 is not an easy one.
"The whole purpose of discussing this is you don't want to play with a dismantled team," West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said. "So what does that look like?"
In the early stages, the considerations are as follows:
Losing 25 percent of scholarship players: That's one threshold being considered. Using the 85-scholarship maximum, a loss of a quarter of those players equals 21. Few programs, if any, operate with right at the 85 max. Nevertheless a 25 percent reduction from that number would mean 64 scholarship players. That begs the question, how many players do coaches really need? Road travel rosters are typically capped at 60-70 as it is.
CBS Sports spoke to one former major-college coach who said the absolute fewest players a program needed to play was 53, basically the NFL roster max. That would include 44 on the two deep depth chart, a long-snapper, holder and some special teamers.
"We want student-athlete input on it," Lyons said. "What does it mean to the athlete? I bring up the quarterbacks. What if something happens with all your quarterbacks? What do you want to do, put in a former tight end who played quarterback? Is that we want the game to be?"
Cross training: If rosters are shortened, one consideration is players working out at multiple positions to make the lineup more flexible. That means a defensive lineman might have to prepare also as an offensive lineman, a wide receiver as a defensive back. No one is talking about single-platoon football.
TCU AD Jeremiah Donati stressed the preliminary nature of the study. "What constitutes a disqualified team?" he wondered. "Is it a percentage of guys in your overall number? Is it a percentage of scholarship guys? Is it the number of guys in a depth chart at one position?"
Testing: We've tackled the subject this week. There is no national standard for COVID-19 testing. Power Five schools are discussing a game-week standard their programs could adhere to. That alone would go a long way toward deciding whether a game is going to be played. The issue is not only player availability but timing. Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione wondered about key players testing positive the day before a game. "If a team has reached or passed the threshold where too many players are not available, that's what we're trying to work through" he said. "I wish there were easy ways to do this."
Gamesmanship: This is a tricky one. At what point can't a game be played? At what point does a coach not want a game to be played? What if all three of a team's scholarship quarterbacks are sick and the only remaining option is a walk-on who is only meant to be on the practice squad? Is that safe for the quarterback himself? Is it fair for the rest of the team to put itself on the line knowing it will be near-impossible to win the game? "How do we have to look at this and say, 'What's legitimate and what's not legitimate?'" Lyons said. "We don't want any gamesmanship of coaches saying, 'I don't want to play because my starting quarterback really got hurt. He tweaked an ankle, so we don't to play the next week against XYZ.'"
Schedule: The college football schedule doesn't provide much wiggle room to make up games. One Big 12 AD said he's looking at calling nonconference opponents in his region on short notice if a game is canceled. Another said that a canceled nonconference game could be made up in a unique way: two Big 12 teams with open dates playing a nonconference game.
The Big 12 is among a couple of Power Five conferences that have considered pushing back their championship games. Lyons suggested the Big 12 Championship Game could be held as much as two weeks later on Dec. 19. That could provide time for league members to make up canceled or postponed games.
He added the conference still has "a month or so" to decide on how to cancel games.