Bowlsby Offers Outlook for Big 12 as Coronavirus Threat Looms Over 2020

Parker Thune

From his home in Dallas County, Bob Bowlsby opened his Thursday conference call by expressing his uncertainty.

"We're in unprecedented times," said the Big 12 commissioner. “Just a week ago now, it seems like a lot longer, that we missed the first day of March Madness. The number of changes over the last week have been extraordinary.”

In the chaos of the pandemic that's confined most of the country and the world to quarantine, Bowlsby understandably noted that sports has to take a backseat, saying, "The reach of this goes way beyond athletics."

The commissioner likened the situation to a tragedy that similarly caused the entire nation to come to a collective halt, but acknowledged the distinguishing nuances of this particular circumstance.

“I remember well the time period after 9/11, and that one was awfully difficult on our nation," he said. "And yet you little by little saw returns to normalcy. This just has a much longer tail and a great deal more uncertainty. It’s an invisible enemy that we really don’t know fully how to fight. And so I think it’s very presumptuous to try and force athletics decisions. We all have to stand back and realize that we’re managing important games, but they’re just games.”

Nonetheless, Bowlsby reiterated that he and the entire Big 12 are fully engaged in figuring out what the next steps will be within the conference.

"I have met at least twice a week by conference calls with our athletics directors. I have several NCAA calls with NCAA leadership and staff," Bowlsby said. 

“It’s an intellectually fascinating and challenging time, but it’s also heartbreaking because we know how much effort, energy and emotion our student-athletes and their coaches put into their sports in the pursuit of excellence.”

When asked about the financial impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has already had on the conference, Bowlsby acknowledged that the Big 12's budget would have to undergo significant alteration, but also said that Oklahoma's participation in the most recent College Football Playoff and Baylor's appearance in the Sugar Bowl would help offset losses.

“The cancelled basketball championship games in Kansas City looks like it’ll cost us about $6.6 million," he said. 

"Everyone [on staff] is working from home right now. We don’t know how long that will go on, obviously."

Bowlsby made it clear that his primary concern going forward is the timeline of the pandemic's sweep. With most fall sports already typically engaged in practices and training sessions at this point in the year, he emphasized that the schedule will have to change dramatically.

"I think it's very unlikely that we're going to have any spring games. We're looking at a window for a return to activity that's six or eight weeks," Bowlsby said. “The month of May typically is a heavy lifting and training month. Then the athletes get some time off, and the coaches have camps and clinics. It may be that we can’t do any of that this year, so what do you do to get ready? I think that’s the part that we’re thinking about: what does that transition look like?”

At the end of the day, Bowlsby seemed resigned to the fact that college athletics' current state of limbo is out of his hands - and anyone else's hands, for that matter.

“I guess we have the same questions that all of you have - when are we going to return to normalcy, or some semblance of normalcy. … It’s entirely possible that we could see the coronavirus reappear. … The uncertainty of all of this is unnerving. It’s a very uncertain environment, and I know it’s very difficult on our student-athletes.

“This is a new day, and I think it’s going to have to be almost entirely dictated by the circumstances. I don’t think there’s a crystal ball on the planet that can tell us what’s going to happen in the next few months.”

The commissioner continually emphasized that in the current climate, athletics is not priority 1A, and shouldn't be treated as such.

Nevertheless, he remained optimistic that there will be college football in the fall of 2020, saying, "Right now our plan is to play the football season as it's scheduled."

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