There were apparently too many questions without answers for the Big 12 to host its annual question-answering event next week.
The league’s annual media days event was scheduled to take place virtually Monday and Tuesday with the conference’s commissioner, coaches and star players made available to the press, but with so much uncertainty regarding both the viability and structure of the upcoming season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference postponed the event until August.
“As everyone is aware, our head coaches and student-athletes have not been able to collectively engage in organized team functions since athletics activities were suspended in March,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement this week announcing the move. “We felt it was prudent to give coaches a chance to re-acclimate with their teams prior to participating in our annual season preview event.”
Here are the three questions that probably need to be answered before the Aug. 3 media day for the Big 12 to have much in the way of meaningful answers of their own.
Will the situation nationally improve?
The biggest issue for sports’ return in a non-bubble situation is perhaps the state of the country as a whole. The United States has recently set new daily records for new cases of the coronavirus, and if those numbers remain steady — or rise — there could be continued or growing stress on health care systems. When sports — and most of the country — shut down in March, it was primarily to “flatten the curve” in an effort to keep hospitals from being overrun and overwhelmed with patients.
There are now parts of the country, such as cities in Florida and Texas, that are reportedly currently approaching capacity in some of their hospital systems.
“This starts with the national output,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said this week. “What’s going on with the disease? If the current trend lines continue — as negative as they’ve been the past few weeks — America is not going to return to normal.
“College football is just going to be a victim of that.”
What is the state of testing?
This question is directly related to the first. If cases remain high, the demand for tests also remains high. Nationally there are reports of testing delays that stretch over a week. The situation is location-dependent — some locales are in much better shape than others — but in a sport like college football, with programs from across states and regions scheduled to play each other, problems in some areas will translate to trouble in others.
If testing is strained in Austin, Texas, for example, that would complicate the ability for Texas to play Iowa State even if testing is running smoothly in Story County.
There is also the question that if testing is an issue in some places, should college football programs be using testing resources on mostly healthy, asymptomatic and low-risk populations? And if football has to stop testing, that could mean they have to stop playing.
Will campuses be open?
The question all spring long was would there be sports if schools were doing virtual learning only. The answer from most administrators was no, if the general student population isn’t on campus, then it would be inappropriate to have student-athletes there and competing.
Most schools still plan to have students on campus and the financial ramifications on the academic side may be even more serious than athletics, which is notable since Iowa State has already said it could see a $40 million hole in athletics if there’s no football this fall.
The issue for schools, though, is mostly the same as athletics, with those first two questions likely needing to be answered before students return in droves to campus. Given the typical college lifestyle isn’t particularly social-distancing friendly, there are real questions on what effect adding tens of thousands of people to communities will have on COVID-19 transmission.
If university administrators ultimately decide to move toward more or exclusive online instruction this fall, that’ll put football in a precarious position.