Big 12 to move forward with plans for fall football season

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The Big 12 on Wednesday said it will continue moving forward with the intent of playing football in the fall.

The conference's board of directors met for more than an hour Tuesday to discuss the future of the season in the midst of decisions by the Big Ten and Pac-12 to postpone fall sports until 2021. The Big 12 athletic directors met late Tuesday following the board meeting.

"Our student-athletes want to compete, and it is the board's collective opinion that sports can be conducted safely and in concert with the best interests of their well-being," Big 12 board of directors chairman and TCU chancellor Victor Boschini said in a statement. "We remain vigilant in monitoring the trends and effects of COVID 19 as we learn more about the virus. If at any point our scientists and doctors conclude that our institutions cannot provide a safe and appropriate environment for our participants, we will change course."

The Big 12 also released a revised football schedule Wednesday. Teams will still play their "9-plus-1" schedules, with nine conference games and one nonconference game, but the start of the conference season will be delayed until Sept. 26. The schedule includes two off weeks for every team, to allow for flexibility in the instance that games must be postponed. The Big 12 championship game also has a flexible date, scheduled for Dec. 12 or Dec. 19.

The league's signature rivalry game, the Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma, will remain at the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 10. The game will occur without its usual ambience, though, as the State Fair of Texas -- which annually runs concurrently with the game -- was canceled because of the pandemic.

Much attention was on the Big 12 meeting after the ACC and SEC publicly affirmed their intentions to continue moving forward.

The decision leaves three of the Power 5 conferences intent on playing -- for now.

The Big 12 also announced its plans for "enhanced COVID-19 testing," which will include three tests per week in high-contact sports such as football, volleyball and soccer. Return-to-play protocols will include EKGs, troponin blood tests, echocardiograms and cardiac MRIs.

Those measures come on the heels of college athletics officials' and university presidents' growing concern with myocarditis, a heart condition that has affected some athletes who have had COVID-19.

"The virus continues to evolve and medical professionals are learning more with each passing week," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement. "Opinions vary regarding the best path forward, as we've seen throughout higher education and our society overall, but we are comfortable in our institutions' ability to provide a structured training environment, rigorous testing and surveillance, hospital quality sanitation and mitigation practices that optimize the health and safety of our student-athletes. We believe all of this combines to create an ideal learning and training situation during this time of COVID-19.

"Ultimately, our student-athletes have indicated their desire to compete in the sports they love this season and it is up to all of us to deliver a safe, medically sound, and structured academic and athletic environment for accomplishing that outcome."

The Big 12 reportedly had been split on the decision of whether to play. Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades told SicEm365 Radio in Waco, Texas, earlier Tuesday that if the league voted, he expected it to be "really, really close."

With the Big 12's decision known, the American Athletic Conference is planning to move forward as well. The American -- widely considered the top Group of 5 football conference -- met Tuesday morning and decided to stay the course, taking a similar position to the SEC and ACC. The first games across the league are scheduled for Sept. 5.

"We think it is premature to make any major decisions at this time," American commissioner Mike Aresco told ESPN. "We continue to gather more information, and we also are monitoring the overall situation. The health and safety of our student-athletes is obviously our top priority."

The Sun Belt is expected to follow the SEC's lead, sources said. That would mean that at least five FBS conferences are still intent on playing fall football, while four -- the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West and Mid-American -- have postponed their seasons.

Conference USA, which had one member postpone fall sports (Old Dominion) and another (Rice) postpone its football season until Sept. 26, has a meeting of the league's presidents and chancellors scheduled for late Wednesday, sources said.

FBS independents Army, BYU and Liberty still intend to play, sources said. New Mexico State, also an independent, is down to four scheduled games -- all against Conference USA and Sun Belt schools -- following the recent cancellations.

"We would like to play," New Mexico State athletic director Mario Moccia said. "The vast majority of our team wants to play. The coaches want to play, but we're in a unique situation."

Moccia told ESPN that he has fielded several calls from Power 5 and Group of 5 teams this week, but a 14-day quarantine order for those coming into New Mexico from out of state could prevent the Aggies from playing. Last week, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she hoped college football would be postponed.

ESPN's Andrea Adelson, Kyle Bonagura, Heather Dinich, Mark Schlabach, Chris Low and Adam Rittenberg contributed to this report.