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Monday Morning Quarterback: The Boys Are (almost) Back in Town

The Big 12 is allowing student-athletes to return to campus. Does that guarantee the return of football in the fall?

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Late last week, TCU announced their plans for the fall semester: students will be welcomed back to campus, a week early, and sent home for Thanksgiving Break with distance-learning carrying them through the end of the fall semester.

This came just days after the Big 12 Conference announced that football players would be allowed to return to their respective universities on June 15th for voluntary workouts, part of a three phase plan that allows other fall sports athletes (cross country, soccer, volleyball) to return for voluntary workouts July 1 and all other athletes eligible to return July 15.

So, what does this mean? It’s a big step forward toward the return of football this fall, and gives student-athletes a little “normalcy” after ten weeks of upheaval.

In an interview with the Star-Telegram, “normalcy” was the word of the day from Athletic Director Jeremiah Donati. “Everything I have heard has had a ton of genuine excitement about getting back to some normalcy.” The Horned Frog Football coaching staff returned to their offices Friday and began laying out plans for testing, housing, and — should the need arise — quarantining — players once they descend upon Fort Worth. TCU plans to “excessively test” players, securing two COVID-19 testing devices that can register results in 15 minutes. “In general, we’re planning on over-testing versus under-testing,” Chancellor Boschini said. “We’re in a good position geographically and have a medical school and good relations with many hospitals in our area, so we don’t feel we’ll have any issues getting tests.”

Following Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s lead, Donati and Boschini are confident that college football will return in the fall. Bowlsby went so far as to say, “You talk about optimism, I am optimistic that we’ll start the season somewhere around Labor Day and I think we’ll get a crack at it. I’m bullish about our opportunity and more so than I was 30 days ago. I hope I’m even more so 30 days henceforth.” Boschini added “I’m very optimistic about it. I think it’s going to happen.”

Not all of the Big 12 is onboard though, with Lincoln Riley stating June to be too early to make a call and holding off on his players returning to Norman until July. His AD agreed, saying “One can argue that there are advantages for getting the student-athletes back on campus as soon as possible, but there are also risks,” Joe Castiglione said. “And in our minds, as we consistently listen to the medical experts we’ve been talking about for weeks and weeks now, we don’t believe we are at a point yet where the positives outweigh any of the risks. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In our mind, the risks far outweigh any of the positive gain we might have for those few weeks.”

Of course, when you’ve run away with the conference for half a decade, you can afford to be patient.

With athletes returning, the wheels are fully in motion for sports to return in the fall. And while we can expect athletes to be a full go come fall, questions remain about how many people will be allowed out to watch them. Numbers like 25 and 50% of capacity are floating around, making those that run collegiate coffers nervous. Despite an only slightly reduced conference payout of $37.7 million, TCU has been cutting the budget — from everyday employees to the highest paid — looking to survive after taking a $50 million haircut from COVID-19 cancellations. There will also be questions for season ticket holders, who now have until June 22nd to make a renewal decision, but may not then know if they will be able to attend any games in person this fall.

One thing that we do know, though, is that TCU is in good shape regarding leadership for whatever the uncertain future holds. Something that has been evident through his turn as president of the American Football Coaches Association. Said Bowlsby: “He’s carrying a lot of water on behalf of college football and on behalf of the Big 12. I just want to give Gary a little bit of a shoutout. With all the duties that a head coach has and all the craziness we’re dealing with right now, I’m sure his plate has been full. Gary’s in a leadership position among his peers and is doing a really good job with it.”