Big 12 Looking at Protocols for Games, Postponements, and Cancellations

Robert Allen

STILLWATER -- Oklahoma State vice-president for athletics and athletics director Mike Holder has had his hands full the past month. He just announced the findings of an investigation into OSU football and his head coach Mike Gundy, who players had tweeted needed to change. Other time consuming and activities needing his attention ranged from watching and monitoring the Cowboys football team coming back on campus to a much steeper than imagined set of penalties for the greed of a rogue basketball assistant coach. Holder along with others including head basketball coach Mike Boynton were involved in structuring an appeal for those penalties sent to the NCAA. 

So, it's a good thing that Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby did not appoint Holder to the current committee of athletic directors looking into the criteria for a football season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Holder and others will get their chance to weigh in but in the meantime the quintet of Baylor's Mack Rhoades, Kansas State's Gene Taylor, Oklahoma's Joe Castiglione, TCU's Jeremiah Donati, and West Virginia AD Shane Lyons are looking into the issues of football in a pandemic and how to navigate the potential problems and issues. After the committee comes up with it's plans, coaches, players, Big 12 Conference officials, and the other five athletic directors in the league will get a chance to weigh in.

The last few weeks have revealed a few options, as a week ago it came out that Bowlsby was looking at moving or creating flexibility in the Big 12 Championship Game of moving it a week back from Saturday, Dec. 5 to Dec. 12, allowing for the potential of a make-up week.

Bob Bowlsby has been on the front end of all college season discussion of dealing with COVID-19.USA TODAY Sports Images - Jay Biggerstaff

“I think trying to build in flexibility makes sense. That’s not the decision we’ll make this kind of year,” Bowlsby said to The Dallas Morning News. “I hope the season is orderly enough that those kinds of options can be viable. I suspect that we won’t have that luxury.”

Bowlsby has been the leading proponent of a fractured and disjointed football season because of the coronavirus. One of the athletic directors on the committee Shane Lyons of West Virginia took it a week further saying there was no reason the Championship Game couldn't be pushed back to Saturday, Dec. 19, allowing for two weeks of potential make-up games. 

Testing has been a major discussion. All of the Big 12 schools have COVID-19 test protocols with their teams as all have come back to campus. All have had some positive tests with Oklahoma State coming back early and they've had a total of 14. Oklahoma came back the latest at the end of June pointing for July 1 and they reported 14 positives plus two staff members.

Two schools, Kansas State and just Friday, the University of Kansas have suspended training activities because of positive tests for COVID-19 and with this weekend players scattering some, you know they did, the possibility of positive tests will increase as they come back.

“After the increase in positive COVID-19 tests within our football program, our medical team at Kansas Team Health has recommended discontinuing voluntary workouts immediately," Kansas athletic director Jeff Long released in a statement on July 3. "Our priority remains to keep our student-athletes safe and especially during this pandemic, and we will follow the recommendations of our medical professionals. We will only resume our preparations after the 14-day quarantine is complete and our student-athletes and staff have been tested for the virus prior to participating in football activities." 

One of the biggest and most vital elements in how the season will be contended is the testing. The Big 12 committee of athletic directors is looking at that and the early indication is that testing will be done on Wednesday. This seems to be the latest point in the week where results can be completed in time to make clear decisions on who cannot participate. The word Pokes Report learned from talking to coaches at various Big 12 schools and a few other Power Five programs is the coaches want the testing conducted and completed earlier in the week to allow for strategic contingencies. The need for later is to have the best indication of players that are positive and could create multi-team issues by spreading the virus. 

Bowlsby has suggested that players could be tested two to three times a week during the season. That could be a financial nightmare at some schools. Oklahoma State is fortunate with a medical school in nearby Tulsa and the lab on campus at the OSU School of Veterinary Medicine has been converted to a COVID-19 test lab. In-season testing protocols are what the Big 12 athletic directors committee is discussing. 

How many positive tests would render a team unable to participate. How do you break down the player losses to coronavirus based on position, depth-chart, and overall roster numbers? 

Oregon State has one of the few true medical doctors that is also an associate athletic director in Doug Aukerman, that is a major advisor on this topic. Oregon State opens the season at Oklahoma State.USA Today Sports Images - Troy Wayrynen

The Cowboys opening opponent, Oregon State, has a doctor that is an associate athletic director and chairs the Pac-12's medical advisory board. He says the in-season procedure will be vastly different from this summer's protocols.

“They’ll have to be different,” said Doug Aukerman of Oregon State. “What they’ll look like is probably too soon to predict.”

How many positive tests equals a cancellation or postponement. How open do teams have to be with each other of test results and which player's are available?

One assistant coach at a Power Five school told me his head coach planned on leaving players that tested positive at home, but not announcing who was with or not with the team prior to game time. In other words, gamesmanship and keep them guessing. 

That is exactly what it appears COVID-19 is doing to us constantly, keeping us guessing.