Following Wednesday’s announcement that the Ivy League will not participate in any fall sports, news about the Big Ten deciding to play only conference games this semester came quickly afterwards on Thursday afternoon. An announcement from the Pac-12 is also reportedly imminent. The ACC may follow as well after pushing Olympic sports back to Sept. 1:
SOURCE: ACC coaches have been told of a conference-only games plan (as @Brett_McMurphy reported). I'm told the coaches have not yet been told it’s definite. ACC’s tentative conference-only football plan as they've discussed would extend to include #NotreDame.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) July 9, 2020
Among the Power Five conferences, that leaves the Big 12 and the SEC as the remaining conferences that haven’t made any similar announcements or reportedly plan to do so. And such an announcement on football doesn’t seem imminent from the Big 12, either, based on commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s terse reply to a reporter.
When asked if the Big 12 planned to announce soon the likelihood of a conference-football-games-only plan, commissioner Bob Bowlsby responded to me one word: No.— Randy Peterson (@RandyPete) July 9, 2020
At risk for the Texas Longhorns, of course, is the opportunity to play the rematch against the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge, so it’s still possible that the Big 12 does everything it can to make sure that game happens.
But it’s not the only non-conference game of interest between the two conferences — Oklahoma is scheduled to play Tennessee in Norman and Baylor plays Ole Miss in Houston. Perhaps the two conferences decide that all three games are worth preserving as the lone Power Five non-conference games in football this year.
At the least, it’s notable that the Big 12 and the SEC are the only two Power Five conferences that aren’t moving quickly to cancel all non-conference games as the pandemic intensifies in so many states. There’s still time to make those decisions in a reasonable manner, as Bowlsby believes, but with hospitals in states like Texas close to overwhelmed in coronavirus hot spots and testing capacity stretched thin, the decision by the Big Ten and the apparently impending decisions from the ACC and the Pac-12 echo an increasingly widespread belief about the possibility of playing in September against non-conference opponents.
The belief that it’s not going to happen.
The new Big Ten commissioner is now even publicly unsure about any sports in the fall.
Commissioner Kevin Warren just said to @BTNMikeHall “We may not have sports in the fall.” Certainly not breaking news, but important to hear someone of his influence willing to address this publicly as the clock ticks on the season. #B1G @BigTenNetwork— Anthony Herron (@BigAntHerron) July 9, 2020
Warren also didn’t tell Bowlsby or other Power Five commissioners about how imminent the Big Ten’s announcement was — they reportedly expected it next week, but Bowlsby is still quickly becoming an outlier with his conference’s continued deliberation.
I asked Big 12 commish Bob Bowlsby about the Big Ten's decision to go to a conference-only football schedule. “It's something we’ve looked at but for us it’s too early to make that decision,” he said. The league is taking a more patient approach to the season. #Big12 #hookem— Cedric Golden (@CedGolden) July 9, 2020
The cancelations current and pending raise the specter of non-conference buy games by Power Five football teams resulting in non-payment to the smaller athletic departments that could take major hits. In the Big Ten alone, the cancelation of those games could cost smaller schools $22.2 million in revenue.
“I know the impact that these guarantee games have for these programs — and it’s dramatic,” said Big Sky Conference commissioner Tom Wistrcill, who worked as Akron’s athletics director from 2009 to 2015. “It certainly sends a shock through the system. And I certainly feel for those programs, especially in the (Mid-American Conference) … that has a lot of games with those Big Ten schools and rely heavily on that income.”
What could become an issue, however, is whether the language of the various contracts will result in the games being canceled with no payment due, or whether the Big Ten schools will have to either make payments for canceling the games or make arrangements for a future game.
And, of course, similar scenarios are apparently set to play out across the ACC and Pac-12, too, if not eventually in the Big 12 and SEC, as well.
As for the other fall sports, canceling the non-conference schedule in men’s and women’s basketball would provide an extra two months of managing the pandemic and some margin of safety for other sports like volleyball and soccer that have shorter seasons by playing in the relative bubble of conference opponents.
It seems reasonable to expect that the Big 12 and SEC will strongly consider similar moves, too, but if that’s the case, how can those schools justify playing football if the other sports aren’t planning on participating in games during the fall semester?
Maybe Warren is right about the possibility of not having any sports at all until January.
At the center of this, at least for the Longhorns and Tigers, is that the possibility of Texas at LSU still exists and a decision canceling it doesn’t sound imminent, but it seems close to becoming one of only three Power Five non-conference games that even has a chance of happening.