OU football: Big 12 meetings could resolve what Lincoln Riley sees as uneven playing field amid COVID-19 shutdowns

Big 12 conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby answers questions from reporters after his opening remarks on the first day of media days at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David Kent)

Big 12 football coaches, athletes and media members won’t congregate in Arlington, Texas this year.

Thursday, the conference was the first in among Power 5 leagues to officially shift to a virtual format, with July 20-21 as the tentative date.

“It is our belief that given the efforts to combat COVID-19 it is in the best interest for the safety of everyone involved to move away from our traditional football media day gathering this year,” a Big 12 spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement to The Transcript. 

League coaches, accompanied by player representatives, have annually met in Texas during the month of July to discuss the upcoming season with a large group of various media members reporting for print publications, websites, television stations and fan sites. Around 500 media were credentialed last year, according to the league. 

The traditional large scrums of reporters and athletes — who are sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder — violate social distancing even in a large venue like Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. 

The structure of a virtual media days event isn’t clear yet. But once determined, it will offer Oklahoma and other schools a model that could be useful during the season.

OU has held interviews using conference calls or Zoom virtual meetings since the pandemic shut down NCAA sports on March 12.The Big 12 has suspended in-person activities until May 31.

In March, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the league wanted to hold media days as usual, especially since it had reached a new sponsorship agreement with Academy Sports, but he wasn’t sure what the outcome would be at the time. The media days event is part of the league’s championship game agreement with the Cowboys. 

Virtual meetings figure to save the league on travel and other expenses. Bowlsby took a 10% pay reduction in early April and eliminated all year-end bonuses to save the league money with less revenue being distributed due to the cancellation of the NCAA and conference men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

The Big 12’s early-May meeting with football and men’s and women’s basketball coaches was also held virtually, instead of in Phoenix, Arizona for the Fiesta Summit, which was canceled.

There hasn’t been official word on what will become of the Big 12 spring meetings, which include athletic directors and presidents. This year’s discussions are particularly important as decision makers position for what’s next with college football in 2020.

at we’re gonna do with [those meetings] yet," Bowlsby said last month.

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