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Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby Says Empty Stadium Games are a Possibility in 2020

The Big 12’s commissioner spoke at length on the questions surrounding the upcoming football season Thursday.

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With how fast everything is changing, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby can’t plan too far ahead in terms of the 2020 football season.

With the world, much less football conferences, unsure exactly what the COVID-19 pandemic will look like near August, there’s a fear that any made contingency plan would have to be thrown out with new information seemly coming out every few hours.

In an hourlong teleconference Thursday afternoon, Bowlsby said he has heard things will start to return to normal everywhere in timeframes of six to eight weeks from now to 10 to 12 weeks from now and that there could be a rebound of the pandemic in a few months. A few times during the teleconference, Bowlsby mentioned waiting to see how things pan out over the next 60 to 90 days.

“Right now, our plan is to play the football season as it’s scheduled,” Bowlsby said. “If we find out that we have to depart from that, we will do so, and we will do it with plenty of time to let people know what it is we’re thinking and to challenge what we’re thinking.”

The pandemic has already canceled the conference’s basketball tournaments and all of the remainder of spring sports. Bowlsby didn’t shy away from the importance of football in terms on its monetary value and popularity among fans, but with where society is at right now, he also mentioned it feels like the world is a ways from 60,000 people cramming into Boone Pickens Stadium to watch Oklahoma State take on Oregon State on Sept. 3.

Bowlsby even mentioned the possibility of having empty stadium games in 2020.

“It’s hard to imagine looking up to a grandstand and seeing people sitting six feet apart,” Bowlsby said. “I think there will probably be lots of people that give consideration to what kind of public assembly they want to do. … I do think it will cause people to take pause and wonder what kinds of things they’re sharing other than enthusiasm for a game and enthusiasm for a school or a team when they go into the stadium.

“I suppose it’s possible that we can return to some form of competition before we got to the point where we were comfortable with public assembly, and we can end up with what we thought we might end up with in basketball and that is playing in front of no crowd. On the one hand, that allows you to watch it on television, but the environment would certainly be far poorer as a result of not having an enthusiastic crowd in the stands.”

Another concern Bowlsby expressed in regards to football is players being physically ready. With everything shut down, spring practices are all but canceled. Some schools haven’t yet canceled spring games, and Bowlsby said it is “very unlikely” any spring games take place.

As things continue to get pushed back, it will be a wonder to see if teams can host summer workouts or fall camp to even be ready for the upcoming season.

“[Football is] a driver from a popularity standpoint, it’s a driver for schools from a fundraising standpoint, it’s a big driver from a TV standpoint, and it’s a big driver from ticket sales and revenue standpoint,” Bowlsby said. “We haven’t done a lot of modeling, we haven’t done a lot of planning because I just think it’s far too early to do that. We certainly are looking at the next 60 to 90 days, and I think depending on how that goes we’ll begin modeling around what the fall looks like. You could spend a lot of time with it and find out two weeks later that the circumstances have changed and your computations are no longer viable.”

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