By Michael Kinney
When the week began, it looked like college sports in 2020 was on its way to being shutdown completely. But by the end of Tuesday night, the sports world was in chaos, but games are still on tap to be played. Well, by some.
On Tuesday both the Pac-12 and Big 10 conferences announced they were postponing fall sports until 2021. Both conferences cited data from medical experts as the reasoning for the postponement.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
According to the University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz Jr., the Big 12 decision to move forward with the fall season was also based on medical experts.
“The health of our student-athletes is paramount,” Harroz Jr. said. “Our decisions for the fall sports season are made based upon the guidance of national medical experts and our seasoned medical team including our chief football physician, head athletics trainer and OU’s chief COVID officer.”
With the Pac-12 and Big 10 out for 2020, that left many believing the rest of the Power 5 conferences were going to follow suit. However, that was not the case. The Big 12, SEC and ACC stunned some observers and have reportedly decided to continue with his fall sports schedule, according to multiple reports.
“I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes. We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day.”
The SEC and ACC announced they were continuing with fall sports Tuesday afternoon. But observers believed that in order for both conferences to actually have a football season, they needed the Big 12 to join them.
They didn’t have to wait too long. The Big 12 board of directors met late Tuesday evening to discuss a course of action. The conference is in the same position they were Sunday when the commissioners from the Power 5 conference met virtually in their weekly meeting.
“We understand that the virus comes with risk and we work to manage that risk every day,” said OU team physician Dr. Brock Schnebel. “To date, we have experienced success in that management with one positive test on the football team since the ream reported to Norman. As the student-athletes continue training and competing, we will continue to subject them to the same rigorous standards that have been in place thus far, while recommending other safeguards for stadium management and travel.
“To be clear, there are risks in playing, in not playing, and in returning everyone to their homes,” Schnebel continued. “We feel that for the student-athletes’ mental and overall well-being, it is best to let them continue in this setting and with the additional modifications that will be enacted as we expand to game settings.”
One of the factors leading to the Big 12’s decision is the lack of positive tests for COVID-19 throughout training camp. After the first week of initial test, the protocols that have been put in place have seemingly worked.
“To date at OU, we’ve been highly successful in mitigating the transmission of the virus in our athletics operations because of their expertise,” Harroz Jr. said. “Their considered opinion at this time is that with the additional safety measures we will insist on for our student-athletes and all we play against, our student-athletes’ overall health and welfare is best protected by proceeding with the season. Importantly, their decades of experience inform their opinion that our students would be at greater health risk by being outside the rigorous protocols we have in place.”
That has been the case throughout all five Power 5 Conferences and some of the Group of 5 as well. This has many wondering why the Pac-12 and Big 10 felt the need to make their decisions at this point and not wait until students are actually back on campus.
The decisions by the Big 10 and Pac-12 have been met with mixed reactions. While many in the national media have applauded the decision, several players have come out against it.
“I just don’t get how playing football isn’t safe but attending classes is,” Illinois wideout Trevon Sidney said on his Twitter account. “If season is canceled b/c theyre looking out for our health, how is attending classes not worse!? I’m not safe to be around the same people who are tested constantly but I’m safe around many different peers?”
According to officials inside the Big 12, the consideration of the student-athletes and the students on campus have been a focal point in the decisions being made.
“We have been unwavering in putting our focus squarely on the well-being of our student-athletes and staff members,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “We have gone to great lengths in setting a list of protocols that were guided by our medical team and in consultation with industry leaders. There has been great effort expended in areas like testing and sanitizing, which are part of a comprehensive plan. We are prepared to not only continue those practices but to expand them as we move into this phase of the upcoming season.”
On the heals of announcing the season will continue, the Big 12 released its revised football schedules Wednesday afternoon.
Oklahoma starts the season off with Missouri State coming to Norman on Sept. 12. They don’t kick off Big 12 action until Sept. 26.
OU is scheduled to play its first road game of the season Oct. 3 against Iowa State and will meet Texas on Oct. 10 in the AT&T Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Following their second bye of the season, the Sooners will play consecutive road games against TCU (Oct. 24) and Texas Tech (Oct. 31) before hosting Kansas (Nov. 7).
Another bye week is slated for Nov. 14 before OU closes the regular season by welcoming Oklahoma State to Norman (Nov. 21), traveling to West Virginia (Nov. 28) and hosting Baylor (Dec. 5).
The Big 12 Championship is set for Dec. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Sooners have won five straight conference titles and 13 in the past two decades.
Oklahoma announced Wednesday that they currently projects it will reduce capacity at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to approximately 25 percent.
“This is the next step in our preparation efforts,” said Castiglione, “but it is by no means the only step. We have been and will continue working on protocols that will be in place for our student-athletes, staff and patrons. The capacity reduction will allow us to create distancing in the seating bowl. Other policies in the stadium will be introduced as we alter our operations as a result of the COVID-19 virus.”
Oklahoma has yet to say whether it will make facial coverings mandorty or not.
Story and Photo by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media
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