The SEC, Big 12 and ACC have not altered their plans to play football this fall despite decisions by the Big Ten and Pac-12 to postpone their seasons.
In separate statements, each conference said they will continue to make decisions based on the advice of their medical advisory groups, along with local and state health guidelines.
The chairman of the ACC medical advisory group, Duke infectious disease specialist Dr. Cameron Wolfe, told Sports Business Daily Tuesday he felt a season could be played safely.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement, “I look forward to learning more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 leadership to take these actions today. I remain comfortable with the thorough and deliberate approach that the SEC and our 14 members are taking to support a healthy environment for our student-athletes. We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day.”
The disparate medical opinions have only added to the frustration over the past week. ACC sources indicated that nothing has changed from a medical perspective since the Power 5 conferences announced their schedules last week, and there remains surprise over how the Pac-12 and Big Ten reversed course so quickly. Those sources indicated that much of the future decision-making could hinge on what happens with the Big 12.
Ideally, the ACC prefers a majority of the Power 5 conferences to play on. If the Big 12 decides to also delay until the spring, that could change the calculus, but it might not necessarily be a deal breaker.
The Big 12 indicated that it will move forward with the intention of playing football this fall. The conference’s board of directors met for more than an hour Tuesday to discuss the future of the season amid the Big Ten and Pac-12 decisions to postpone fall sports until 2021.
A revised Big 12 schedule was released Wednesday. The conference will still play its “9-plus-1” schedule with nine conference games and one nonconference game but will delay the start of the season until Sept. 26.
Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades, in an earlier interview with SicEm365 Radio in Waco, Texas, said that if the league voted Tuesday, it would be close.
“I think everybody’s grappling with [the Big Ten and Pac-12 decisions],” Rhoades said. “My sense is that if we voted today it would be a really, really close vote.”
Rhoades said if he had to vote Tuesday, he would not be ready to do so and would urge the conference to take more time before making any final decisions.
“What I’m personally struggling with is I don’t want to be forced into making a decision,” he said. “This is obviously a big, big decision, and I don’t feel like I personally could vote today and feel like I really voted on solid footing for the right reasons. If I was providing counsel, I would say, ‘Let’s pause, let’s take one, two, three days, let’s gather ourselves.’ We’ve been thinking through it, it’s not like we haven’t known that this day is coming, and it’s upon us. But for me, there’s just some things that I’d want to have some additional further conversation before we voted. I’m just being completely honest and transparent. I’m not comfortable making the decision today.”
ACC presidents will meet later this week and are expected to get an update from the league’s medical advisory group. It is expected that the group will discuss the medical data the Pac-12 used to justify its decision to hold off playing fall sports until at least January.
One reason the ACC feels comfortable with pushing forward is the way football teams across the league have had little to no coronavirus cases over the past month.
As for the Big 12, commissioner Bob Bowlsby was asked on Wednesday’s teleconference to explain the rationale for continuing to attempt to play in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Well the biggest argument [for playing] is that nobody has told us that it’s poorly advised to go forward and doing what we are doing,” Bowlsby said Wednesday. “If we get to the place where our doctors and scientists say, ‘You know what, you guys got two wheels off the tracks, and you’re headed for a train wreck,’ we will pivot that day.”
Regardless of the timing — whether it’s training camp, midseason or a week before the Big 12 championship game — Bowlsby said the conference will stop if doctors say they should.
“Making adjustments on the fly are going to be a part of this but our medical professionals have said, ‘Go forward, move slowly, make small adjustments, constantly be vigilant about changes in the environment,'” Bowlsby said. “That’s what we’re listening to … when they tell us otherwise we will be listening to that as well.”
Bowlsby was asked if the Big 12 would be willing to play alone if the SEC and ACC also eventually decided to push the sport to the spring.
“John Swofford and Greg Sankey and I spend a lot of time together, and we spend a lot of time comparing notes,” he said of the ACC and SEC commissioners, respectively. “I think it’s unlikely that we would diverge without fairly significant conversations in advance of it.”
As for spring football, Bowlsby said, “I don’t think there’s a single indication that it could be a better situation in March, April and May than it is in September, October, November”.