The Big 12 on Wednesday may have salvaged the remnants of the college football season. It also may have merely delayed its collapse in the face of the nation’s coronavirus crisis.
One day after the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences postponed football until at least the spring semester, the Big 12, which includes titans like Oklahoma and Texas, said it intended to hold league games beginning Sept. 26. Each team is expected to play one nonconference game, a part of its 10-game season, before that date.
The decision left three of the sport’s most influential leagues planning to pursue a football season, shriveled as it might be, and offered a measure of cover for the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences. Ahead of the Big 12’s announcement, some college sports executives said they believed ambitions for a season would erode if the Big 12 declined to play and relegated the A.C.C. and the SEC to the minority among the so-called Power 5 leagues.
“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,” Victor Boschini, the chancellor of Texas Christian, who also leads the Big 12’s board, said in a statement. “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.”
Speaking later on a conference call with reporters, Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, acknowledged that the league’s membership would undoubtedly face “bumpy spots during the fall.”
But, he said, “We have been able to put one foot forward and then follow it with another, and we got to this point.”
The Big Ten and the Pac-12 cited the virus’s risks and uncertainties when they separately announced on Tuesday that they would not play sports this fall. Those decisions placed new pressure on the A.C.C., the Big 12 and the SEC, whose teams play in some of the nation’s most virus-ridden states but are also cultural touchstones and economic juggernauts for their universities and surrounding communities.
While no league has offered anything close to a guarantee that its teams will play, the A.C.C., the Big 12 and the SEC made clear by midday Wednesday that they would try.
The SEC has not released a detailed schedule, but has said it expects to start games on Sept. 26. When the league announced its timeline last month, conference and university officials said they thought the move to start in late September would offer them crucial time to assess how influxes of students to campuses affected the health situations in their communities.
Greg Sankey, the commissioner of the SEC, which includes the defending national champion, Louisiana State, said Tuesday that he was “comfortable” with his league’s approach, but that the conference would “continue to refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports.”
The A.C.C. said that “the safety of our students, staff and overall campus communities will always be our top priority” and, while acknowledging that circumstances could change, said it would “continue to follow our process that has been in place for months and has served us well.”
The conference, which has announced an 11-game schedule, with one nonconference matchup for each of its teams, is scheduled to begin play on Sept. 10. Notre Dame, ordinarily an independent in football, is participating in A.C.C. competition this season.