Big 12’s Bowlsby raises possibility of football without fans in 2020

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There is no such thing as predicting the future in the ever-changing midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is still an ability to plan for the many things that may or may not happen in the coming months. That’s as true in the world of college athletics as it is anywhere else.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby discussed the issues directly facing his league and the 2020 college football season in a Thursday teleconference.

Though the league hasn’t issued any direct mandates for members to cancel their spring football games, Bowlsby said it’s clearly unlikely there will be a chance for any school to hold one.

“It’s very unlikely we’ll have any spring games. I don’t believe we’ll have any additional spring practice,” Bowlsby said. “We’re looking at a window of 6-8 weeks [before returning to activities], so it’s very unlikely that’s going to happen.

“Spring practice is up to [individual schools]. Theoretically they can do those things on their own. We do control the number of days of spring practice. I think it’s going to be awhile before we go back to any live activity on campuses.”

As plans are formed for every possible contingency, Bowlsby raised the possibility that games could return before fans are able to join in on the fun. That was the original plan for continuing the Big 12 basketball tournament before it was canceled outright the next day.

“It’s hard to imagine looking up into a grandstand and seeing people sitting six feet apart. There will probably be lots of consideration to what types of public assembly people will want to allow,” Bowlsby said. “I do think it will cause people to take pause and wonder what types of things they are sharing other than enthusiasm for a team.

“It’s possible we could return to some form of competition before we are comfortable with a return to public assembly. We could return to playing in front of no crowd. The games would still be on TV, but the environment would be far poorer as far as having no crowds in the stands.

“It’s hard to forecast those things, because we have things happening right now that we couldn’t have envisioned three weeks ago.”

With the coronavirus still in the early stages of its existence and no known cure, Bowlsby is wary of illnesses flaring back up as summer falls into autumn even if it is held in check in the coming weeks.

“I worry with the uncertainty of our situation, we may have a rebound in the fall of the coronavirus,” Bowlsby said.

Should that happening, a shortening or outright cancelation of football season could be placed on the table. At the moment, it’s too early to know if that’s strictly a nightmare, or a potential reality.

“Right now, our plan is to play the football season as scheduled,” Bowlsby said.

But like everything else, that’s subject to change.

“It’s very presumptuous to force athletics decisions into an environment that’s so uncertain and has such an impact on our society,” Bowlsby said. “They’re important games, but they’re just games.”

Big 12 losing big money

Bowlsby said that the Big 12 is losing an estimated $6.6 million with the cancelation of the Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments due to the loss of ticket and television revenue.

On top of that, the NCAA announced a drastic reduction in the money that will be distributed to members this year. Thanks to NCAA tournament revenues, the association usually has $600 million to divvy out to conferences from Division I-III.

This year, that total will be $225 million. For the Big 12, that means a shortfall of $14 million.

Because the league will save some money by not hosting spring championships, Bowlsby estimated the total loss will come between $15-18 million.





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