The Big 12 on Monday became the final Power 5 conference to announce its intentions for the 2020 football season. The league’s plan: Nine conference games — the 10-team league will play its usual round-robin slate — and one non-conference contest.
What does Monday’s announcement mean for Kansas State specifically?
Let’s dive in.
The start date
That’s one of the few things the conference didn’t shed light on in its official release. All the Big 12 would say is that it anticipates beginning conference games “sometime between mid-to-late September.” As it stands, K-State is slated to open conference play at West Virginia on Sept. 26.
It is unclear if that date, as well as the Wildcats’ eight other Big 12 games, will hold. K-State president Richard Myers put it well during a Zoom call in June: The coronavirus, he said, “is going to have a vote — probably the primary vote — in how well we can carry out these plans.”
About those non-conference games ...
K-State originally had three non-conference matchups on the docket this fall, all at home: Buffalo (Sept. 5), North Dakota (Sept. 12) and Vanderbilt (Sept. 19).
The Commodores already are off the table. That decision came down last week, when the SEC announced it would play a conference-only schedule.
With the Big 12 permitting only one non-conference contest this fall, who will K-State choose between Buffalo and North Dakota?
K-State athletics director Gene Taylor told The Mercury in a text message Monday night that he is “waiting for more information” from the Big 12 before proceeding. When the Wildcats’ conference opener — time and date — are finalized, Taylor said he will begin discussions with both Buffalo and North Dakota “to see what options we may have with them.”
All three of K-State’s non-conference games in 2020 carried a $1 million cancellation fee; how the SEC’s conference-only approach affects the Vanderbilt contract and cancellation fee isn’t yet known.
More numbers are in play with the other two games, though.
K-State is slated to pay Buffalo, which plays in the Mid-American Conference, a $900,000 guarantee. That’s far more than the $475,000 FCS school North Dakota is set to receive.
If it’s about saving money — a goal of every athletics department in the country given the financial chaos the pandemic has wreaked — then Buffalo will get the boot, and K-State coach Chris Klieman, who had immense success at North Dakota State (four FCS national titles in five years), will open this season with his former in-state rival.
If it’s about K-State’s strength of schedule, then Buffalo will get the nod. Not only are the Bulls an FBS foe, but they boast one of the country’s top running backs in Jaret Patterson, who ran for nearly 1,800 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. They also bring back a pair of experienced signal-callers (Kyle Vantrease and Matt Myers) and their top five pass-catchers from 2019.
Buffalo also has one of the few coaches anywhere with a better resume at his previous job than Klieman did at NDSU: Lance Leipold went 109-6 (!!!) and won six Division III national championships in eight seasons at Wisconsin-Whitewater. He reached 100 career victories quicker than any coach in NCAA history — at any level.
One non-monetary and non-sports factor might reign supreme, however: health orders in other states.
Kansas is on New York’s restricted list. If the Bulls travel to Manhattan, they would have to self-quarantine for two weeks when they return to Buffalo if Kansas isn’t removed from New York’s restricted list. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo already has given an exemption for the state’s professional sports teams to travel out of state and return without quarantining — that’s how the Yankees and Mets have been trekking up and down the East Coast since the MLB season began last month.
New York hasn’t extended that exemption to college teams yet.
The Democrat & Chronicle, a newspaper in Rochester, N.Y., wrote last month that a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health said “guidance for collegiate teams is forthcoming and will be tied to the state’s decision on whether colleges will be able to resume in-person classes in the fall.”
Buffalo still might get around the self-quarantine order even if it doesn’t receive an exemption, though.
That’s because, should the Sept. 5 game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium go on as planned, the Bulls don’t play again until at least Sept. 26. Buffalo’s two other non-conference games, versus Saint Francis (Pa.) on Sept. 12 and at Ohio State on Sept. 19, already have been canceled.
Things would be more straightforward with North Dakota.
The state allows people to travel freely anywhere within the United States. The only restrictions in place in North Dakota center around international travelers who are not merely passing through the state.
Monday’s release from the Big 12 provided no guidance on how schools should handle fan attendance.
K-State still hopes to permit some percentage of fans into home games this season. It just needs the go-ahead from the Riley County Health Department, which last week enacted an order prohibiting indoor or outdoor venues that seat more than 2,000 from opening. (Bill Snyder Family Stadium has a seating capacity of 50,000.)
K-State athletics department representatives met with Riley County Health Department officials Monday afternoon. During the meeting, K-State presented a football-seating plan for the coming season.
“They said they will review it with their committee,” Taylor wrote in a text to The Mercury, “and get back to us.”
Some Big 12 schools already have proceeded with plans for putting fans in the stands. Last week, Texas announced it was revising its plan for 50% stadium capacity to 25% after the city of Austin questioned whether Longhorn games should have any spectators at all.
Iowa State announced in June that it planned to fill Jack Trice Stadium, which seats 60,500, to 50% capacity.