Big 12 set to make scheduling decision as other Power Five conferences finalize plans

Photo of Nick Moyle

AUSTIN — One by one, the others came to a scheduling decision.

The Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC are going conference-only in 2020. The ACC went a bit bolder, bringing Notre Dame into the fold, retaining a full 10-game league schedule and allowing one nonconference contest versus an in-state opponent.

Meanwhile, the Big 12 has been idling on the sideline, watching the other Power Five players and waiting, pushing a floating decision date further and further away. That hesitance — from commissioner Bob Bowlsby, from school presidents and athletic directors, from the league board of directors — has suffused a stressful situation with too much uncertainty.

So it became necessary for the conference to cancel its annual media days, which had already been moved from July 20-21 to Aug. 3. Coaches and players would’ve been thrown out into dozens of virtual interviews and radio spots to discuss a season and schedule that became an obsolete pipe dream months ago.

“There continues to be a lot more questions than answers about what the football season will look like,” Bowlsby said Friday in a statement. “A media day is intended to talk football and the prospects for the season. Part of that discussion is who you will be playing and when. With the ongoing consideration of scheduling models by our board of directors, this is the best course of action at this time.”

It was reluctance to make an announcement too early and trepidation over backlash to a modified schedule — moving the Red River Showdown out of the Cotton Bowl might result in a wave of ill will — that caused the Big 12 to lag so far behind its peers in agreeing on a revised 2020 schedule.

But action by the other leagues has already caused the cancellation of most of the Big 12’s marquee nonconference games. No Texas at LSU. No Oklahoma vs. Tennessee. No Florida State vs. West Virginia in Atlanta. And for the first time since 1976, Iowa and Iowa State won’t battle each other for the Cy-Hawk Trophy and state supremacy.

So this Monday will no longer be a moment to showcase the Big 12 and highlight its talent. It will instead be decision day for the league’s 10 presidents, who are expected to choose between one of three new formats for the 2020 season.

According to a league source and several reports, a scenario featuring nine conference games and one nonconference home game has emerged as the front-runner. That recalibration would be in line with what the other Power Five members have decided upon — not that the Big 12 has other options available.

“I don’t know if the expectation should have ever been that we are going to operate like one big conference or one big happy family,” Bowlsby said Thursday on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” “We all have our own issues. We have different hot spots. We have different thinking among health officials and governors. I think in the end, we will all be comparable. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be identical.”

Fall football camp is supposed to start Aug. 7. Oklahoma and Kansas are both supposed to open the season with home games on Aug. 29. The Sooners even sought and received a waiver to move their season-opener up from the original date of Sept. 5, when the rest of the league is set to kick off the 2020 campaign.

But a disjointed response and stunning lack of urgency remains troubling as more than 1,000 Big 12 student-athletes prepare to play a physical sport amid a global pandemic that has killed more than 156,000 Americans. And the struggles of other leagues during a return to play has only amplified concerns over whether college athletics are even viable in 2020.

Major League Baseball, a pro organization with wealthy owners and 100 fewer teams than the FBS, has struggled to contain COVID-19 as cases spread, forcing cancellations and postponements. MLB’s struggles have hammered home how treacherous allowing a sports season to commence can be, even with months of preparation and every imaginable precaution in place.

So no matter what decision the Big 12 powers that be arrive at Monday, there’s an excellent chance that plan winds up derailed.

“You put a helmet and shoulder pads on and start to see what you might experience during the season,” Bowlsby said. “I’m happy with some of our schools having ‘Week 0’ games. We may even get more of those.

“But this is all very much in flux. And we do believe the longer you wait the more information you have. What was golden a month ago maybe is garbage today. I guess the same thing will be true a month from now.”

Twitter: @NRmoyle