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Big 12 commissioner Bowlsby fears virus may come 'roaring back'

While optimistic the season will start on time, or at least close to it, Bob Bowlsby said he's concerned about an interrupted college football season.

AUSTIN, Texas — After a wave of optimism expressed by athletic directors on Wednesday, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby offered a dose of pessimism. 

In an interview with SiriusXM Big 12 radio, Bowlsby said he fears an interrupted college football season due to the return of COVID-19 during flu season.

"I worry more about the end of the season and the postseason than I do the beginning parts of the season," Bowlsby said. "If the virus comes roaring back in the traditional flu and virus season in November, December, through March, I wonder if we're going to get basketball seasons in, I wonder if we're going to get the [College Football Playoff] in, I wonder if we're going to get the NCAA tournament in."

On April 23, Bowlsby told The Athletic that a "split season" is an option that conference commissioners have discussed. In that case, some games would take place in the fall, while others would take place in the spring. 

On Thursday, he called that option a "fallback position" and instead pivoted to what games will look like when they do take place.

Credit: AP
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby waves before an NCAA football game between Texas and Baylor Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

Among his chief concerns are high-stakes rivalry matchups that draw thousands of spectators and tailgaters, like the Red River Showdown.

"When you think about a Petri dish for spreading infection, can you think of one that's better than the State Fair of Texas," Bowlsby said. "I mean, people are jammed in there and they're enthusiastic and it's about a perfect place to transmit any kind of an infection. ... In this new normal ... how do you have that at the Cotton Bowl when you've got to walk through 300,000 people gathered out in the outer reaches? It's those kinds of things that we're going to have to think ourselves through."

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Bowlsby said he remains optimistic about the season starting on time, or at least close to it. He cited "popularity reasons" and "real, practical reasons" as the main motivators.

Still, conversations are ongoing about whether or not the fan experience will be altered in a significant way.

"We certainly would love to be playing with full stadiums, but given social distancing and some of the things we've been through, one has to wonder if the psychology of going back to public assembly isn't going to change," Bowlsby said. "Are you going to want to go into a stadium and sit cheek-to-jaw with someone you don't know, after all we've been through?"

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