Several reports this past week have claimed the NCAA is due to vote on the eligibility status of winter and spring sports student-athletes who had their years cut short by the novel coronavirus pandemic that has engulfed the globe.
But Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is parting ways from those with the opinions of wanting to know now just how to proceed with those athletes.
If it were up to him – which it is not, though he used to be a part of the committee that will be tasked at making the decision – he would like to have more information rather than making a decision in haste.
“I really think as much as everybody wants to know if they're going to get another year, I think we would be well served by waiting a period of time to make the decisions,” Bowlsby said. “Just to be able to see a little bit more of the data and see what the next 30 or 60 days brings us. … In the interest of making high-quality solutions before the outcome, I think we're well advised to wait.”
Part of the reason for Bowlsby’s desire for a delay in the decision on eligibility on athletes already affected is the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and if there is a possibility it could wreak havoc on the college landscape again next academic year.
“I worry that with the uncertainty of our current circumstance, we might find ourselves with a disruption in the fall or winter next year due to a rebound in coronavirus, and everybody is telling us it's going to be around for a while,” Bowlsby said. “If we have that sort of disruption again, then are we going to offer fall sport athletes another year and how does that interface with their academic undertakings, those sorts of things?
“So it has a lot of complexity. It is very expensive as a result of continuation scholarships, and there's a number of different NCAA bylaws that need to be altered in order to accommodate some of the elements of squad limits and number of scholarships and how equivalencies are broken up and those kinds of things.”
Many have advocated for just allowing spring sports athletes to retain a year of eligibility from the lost season.
Bowlsby was a college wrestler at Northern Iowa – which is now a Big 12 Conference affiliate for wrestling – and does have some empathy for those winter athletes who did not get an opportunity to compete in their postseasons.
“There's a case to be made for winter sport athletes too, that weren't able to finish their entire season,” the conference commissioner said. “… For college wrestlers, the opportunity to wrestle in the Division I tournament at the end of the year is the pinnacle for young people that are trying to capture a second or a third or even a fourth national championship.
“We also have a lot of Olympians that were either taking Olympic gap years this year, or had their their training plans altered by the the absence of the games this summer. So it's got a lot of moving parts.”
Reviewing the madness of March
Bowlsby was at the center of a tumultuous month as cancellations spread across the NCAA rapidly.
What has that meant for him? Daily calls with other commissioners, twice-per-week calls with the Big 12 athletic directors and five conference calls over the past two weeks with university presidents.
The days of March 11 and 12 were nothing like Bowlsby has seen before. He and other Big 12 athletic directors were lucky, he said, that they were assembled in-person during the Big 12 tournaments.
“Between noon and 7 o’clock on Wednesday it was absolutely wild,” he said. “The same thing was true between about 8 in the morning and 12 on Thursday, two weeks ago … We were doing a lot of things in real time, but we had the right people at the table to help us with it.
“I remember well the time period after 9/11. That one was awfully difficult on our nation, and yet little by little you saw returns to normalcy after 3-4 days, then after 10 days, then a month. This just has a much longer tail and it has a great deal more uncertainty.”
Planning for upcoming offseason events
The Big 12 Conference has begun to make adjustments to its annual meetings held in May.
According to Bowlsby, the Arizona summit featuring football and men’s and women’s basketball coaches has been shifted to a teleconference.
There has not been any talk about making changes to the annual football media day that is held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“We have a new sponsor coming on board for that event – Academy Sports – so, obviously, we want to hold it,” Bowlsby said. “It's in the middle of July. And so we don't know what the circumstances are going to be between now and the middle of July.
“So it's still on the calendar and we still plan on doing it, but it's just yet another event that we're going to have to think about and make decisions on if we can get the best information so we can make it in light of modern circumstances.”