Big 12 football returned Saturday with a slate of seven games, including a West Virginia victory over Eastern Kentucky, but the opening weekend of the new season was far from ordinary.
For one, most Big 12 contests were played in nearly empty arenas. At WVU, fewer than 1,000 fans were permitted to attend the opener.
Three contests featuring conference teams were also postponed, in what could be a harbinger for the future as the league progresses with fall sports during a pandemic.
“It has been a labor of love because the kids want to play and the coaches want to coach, and obviously the fans want to be a part of it as well,” said Bob Bowlsby, the commissioner of the Big 12 Conference. “All three of those groups and anybody else that is an observer is gonna have to be mindful of the fact that this is gonna be a football season and a sports season like no other we’ve experienced.”
In an exclusive interview last week with Gold and Blue Nation, Bowlsby said he’s not declaring victory over the coronavirus, and he expects “continued interruptions” throughout football season.
In the first week, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU each saw their football openers postponed. The Cowboys and Bears will instead play their first games this Saturday.
“We’ve got a lot going on that would make it look a lot like a normal fall, and yet it’s gonna be anything but a normal fall,” Bowlsby said. “We’re gonna have some times where Thursday comes around and a team can’t answer the bell, and it’s gonna have to be either rescheduled or it’ll have to become a no-contest, and so we’ve put all those procedures in place. We’re hopeful that we don’t have to use them any more than absolutely necessary.”
But the leader of the Big 12 conference also believes the league’s COVID-19 protocols are working.
“We’ll make sure we’re doing our testing and make sure we’re doing the follow up that we need to do after positive tests, and we have to make sure we don’t get too low when there are disruptions, because there will be disruptions,” Bowlsby said.
In this exclusive conversation, which aired in part Saturday on Mountaineer GameDay, Bowlsby also praised WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons and university president E. Gordon Gee for their diligence throughout the college sports stoppage.
In addition, Bowlsby discussed the league’s COVID-19 roster guideline and the Big 12 Unity initiative.
Watch the extended interview with the conference commissioner in full at the top of this page.