'There's no guarantee': Big 12 cautious yet confident while moving toward playing football

Kansas defensive tackle Caleb Sampson (98) comes in to sack West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall (12) during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive tackle Caleb Sampson (98) comes in to sack West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall (12) during the second quarter on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

Friday, August 14, 2020

As the Big 12 moves full steam ahead toward a 10-game college football season, conference administrators have made sure to remind those watching it unfold that there are no certainties.

University of Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long earlier this week echoed comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby when asked during a media video conference about whether it would be possible to safely get through a football season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can’t control the virus,” Long said. “But we'll respond. And, you know, there's no guarantee that there isn't something else out there that we're going to discover about the virus. When we do and if we do and it puts our student-athletes’ health and safety in jeopardy, we'll pivot, we’ll turn, we’ll find a new direction or we won't play.”

Despite those hypothetical scenarios Long also voiced his confidence in the Big 12’s plan. Among the protocols in place, when players test positive for the virus, the conference will require them to have a cardiac MRI, EKG and other heart-related tests before they are cleared to return to practicing and playing.

Long described the conference’s approach as safe and effective based on what the Big 12 leadership knows at this time.

“If something changes in the future, then again, we'll adapt and that adapting could be, you know, discontinuing playing football in the fall,” Long said. “That's an option out there or I shouldn't say an option — a possibility out there. Always based on new information or more information, you can arrive at a different decision. So if more information comes about COVID, we can arrive at a different decision about moving forward.”

Many wondered if the Big 12 would postpone fall sports completely due to concerns surrounding the pandemic, especially after the Big Ten and Pac-12 earlier in the week took that route with the hope of playing in the spring semester of 2021.

But internally, Long said, the Big 12’s leadership didn’t think it needed to be influenced by the decisions of other leagues.

“As a Big 12 Conference, we have our medical team, every school in the Big 12 has their medical team, we called other professionals in to help us make this decision,” he said. “So we really were focused on the Big 12 and what was in the best interest of our student-athletes.”

From Long’s point of view, much of his trepidation surrounding whether a football season would be possible came earlier in the year, he said, not this past week as other conferences canceled fall sports.

“It's been a rollercoaster ride. It's been a pendulum back and forth between things are looking good, numbers are down, where you know, we're starting to go away, and then boom, here it comes back and now we've got a high level,” Long said of following COVID-19 trends over the course of the course of the past five months. “So it's been back and forth, and candidly I can say that there were a number of times when I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to play football this fall.”

For now at least those worries are quieted according to Long, as the Big 12 marches forward toward what he called a “rebirth” or a “restart” to the football season.