When it became clear that the 2020 college football season would be strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big 12 Conference took a measured approach, noting that there was still much to be learned and seen before making any modifications to the 2020 schedule.
At this point, we’ve seen it all and we really haven’t learned anything in the past couple of weeks that would be a game-changer in terms of laying out a football schedule, other than leaving some slack time to schedule make-up games made necessary when one or more teams are forced to the sidelines due to too many COVID-19 positive tests, or ensuring that non-conference foes have comparable testing programs in place to identify infected players.
At this point, the decision delay is a case of the league stretching out a good idea too far — so far, in fact, that its latest presidents’ virtual meeting, now scheduled for Monday, caused the second postponement of the league’s football media day. Was there really anything to be gained by delaying this meeting? We’ve seen Major League Baseball cancel a slew of games. The NFL has just started up camps, and is thus no further ahead in its schedule and experience than college football. What more is there to learn? There have been no breakthroughs in testing, treatment or safety practices, or in responses from pro teams.
The good news, if there is any in this situation, is that delaying the decision on the number of games to be played in the Big 12 this year isn’t an overtly damaging one — other than the embarrassment of calling off Media Day for the second time, and after a schedule and access information for that event had already been distributed to outlets. Now, though, it’s time to make the call, and any further delays past Monday would leave the league even more red-faced.
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The Pac-12 and SEC have both pushed back of the start of their conference-only 10-game slates to Sept. 26. The leagues noted that they did so with medical considerations at the forefront of the decision, and to allow for all students to get on campus before football begins to be played. However, the Pac-12’s scheduling leaves only one open date for schools over a three-week stretch in October, and another universal one on the weekend of December 12. Why box yourself in?
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Several different schedule modules are under consideration by the Big 12, but one that consists of just nine conference games is pretty much off the table, according to two different sources. That leaves schedules including one, two or three non-conference games in addition to the nine Big 12 games as the top contenders. The ‘conference plus one’ and ‘conference plus two’ slates appear to have the most support, while a full 12-game schedule, favored by coaches and a minority of administrators, might be the third-place choice at this point. It’s still not out of the picture, however.
Currently, West Virginia has one non-conference game scheduled, while every other school in the league has two. If the plus one schedule is the choice, WVU is ready to go, but every other Big 12 team would have to drop a foe. Is that optimal at this point? If the plus two model gets the nod, the Mountaineers would have to add a team. Discussions with MAC opponents, including but not limited to Akron, have been on-going to fill that gap if necessary.
Also of interest is the league calendar. If the Big 12 opts for a ten-game schedule, will it also push back the start of the season to later in September? That would affect every school’s non-conference game, which would be difficult but not impossible to move. Plus, would the league ask heavyweight Oklahoma to again move its August 29 contest against Missouri State, which it just shuffled up from its previous Sept. 5 date last week?
That seems unlikely. So too does asking nine schoools to cancel a game that should and could, health considerations met, be played. There’s no real difference in playing a 10-, 11- or 12-game slate, assuming that the foes are playing under the same testing and health protocols. The only point in favor of a schedule of fewer games is that it does leave more open dates for potential shuffling when inevitable postponements or cancellations due to a positive tests occur. However, is it reasonable to assume that off weeks for those teams will line up when cancellations occur? The odds of getting in eight or nine games are better, it would seem, when playing an 11-game schedule than one of 10 or nine.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has stated many times that he expects cancellations to occur, and that every team may not play the same number of games as a result. If that’s the case, why not schedule 12 games, with the thought that if one or two get called off, there’s still a solid slate of games to be played? Schedule only ten, lose two, and rescheduling might not be possible, unless the league schedules one open week for all schools. That could be Dec. 5, if the league also elects to push back its championship game to Dec 12 or later.