The ultimate kick in the teeth from 2020 would be for Oklahoma — the Big 12 Conference’s five-time defending champion — be left out of the league title game because of a COVID technicality.
Simply put, if OU doesn’t play enough games, the Sooners do not qualify for a spot in Arlington, TX, on Dec. 19. There’s no established cutoff yet for what constitutes “enough games,” so the Sooners must proceed aggressively.
All of which shines a white-hot spotlight on Saturday night’s home game against Baylor.
“It’s very important,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said Thursday during a 40-minute Zoom call with media.
Castiglione laid out many of the adjustments OU and other Big 12 members have made while trying to play college football games during a pandemic. Some have worked well. Some haven’t. Some were not needed.
Ultimately every step has been a challenge.
“We’ve been challenged by navigating everything around the virus, the circumstances around the virus,” Castiglione said. “Some of it we’ve planned out and fortunately, we had a contingency plan. Others we’ve been able to gather such great expertise from the medical experts who are learning more and more about this virus and its conditions and being able to adjust accordingly.
“Going back to August, we said then that if we were going to have a football season, we would make sure it would be done in a safe and healthy manner. We looked at the adjustment of the schedule when we announced the schedule and built in open dates to allow for the possible games that had to be postponed and played at another time.
“And we’re trying to make good on those components that we’ve said all along: safe, healthy and certainly have the game, because our student-athletes definitely want to play as long as it meets those medical standards.”
Castiglione called the virus a “ghost” that goes where it wants. With last week’s postponement of the Sooners’ trip to West Virginia and shutdowns of the football and men’s basketball programs, clearly the virus wanted to go to the Norman campus.
Now, with two games left to play — Saturday night’s home game with Baylor and next week’s rescheduled road trip to West Virginia — the football team’s personnel setbacks may be insurmountable. The Sooners need at least 53 players (plus at least seven offensive linemen, four interior defensive linemen and one quarterback), although coach Lincoln Riley said OU and other Big 12 teams have played games outside of those guidelines already this season.
With all that’s on the line for OU Saturday — with no more Saturdays available for a makeup date, the Sooners don’t want to put all their eggs in the West Virginia basket next week — they have to play the Bears or risk their Big 12 title streak coming to an ignominious end.
“For us, we’re nearing the finish line,” Castiglione said. “It has continued to be challenging, but we’re going to do the best we can to try to complete the season.”
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