Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby fielded questions for nearly an hour Thursday, but from the outset he didn’t profess to have all the answers.


Speaking at a news teleconference that covered a litany of topics yet centered around the dark cloud the coronavirus has cast over a conference that houses Kansas, Kansas State and eight other high-profile universities, Bowlsby emphasized the cautious approach the Big 12 has taken amid these uncertain times.


“I guess we have the same questions that all of you have,” Bowlsby said in his opening statement. “When do we return to normalcy, or some semblance of normalcy? Is it going to be May? Is it going to be June? Could it be July? Will we see a second cycle (of the virus) sometime down the road?”


The Big 12 shut down its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments March 12 in Kansas City, Mo., and just a day later, the conference canceled its spring sport seasons. Bowlsby labeled the current “unprecedented times” as “extraordinary” but made sure to put his role and the role of sports in general into context.


“The reach of this goes way beyond athletics,” Bowlsby said, “and in some ways athletics gets rendered to an appropriate second-class citizenship as a result of all that’s going on in our world.”


Bowlsby's own world has looked much different of late.


The Dallas-based commissioner has been working from home, 12-hour, teleconference-packed days full of daily meetings with other major conference commissioners, twice-weekly meetings with Big 12 athletic directors, and frequent calls with NCAA officials.


Bowlsby’s time hasn’t simply been consumed by coronavirus discussions.


“It might surprise you to hear that the name, image and likeness components that I’ve been involved with throughout (the) NCAA working group are continuing to move forward,” said Bowlsby, who still expects to be part of a report on that subject matter to the NCAA board of governors by the end of April — by telephone, of course.


Bowlsby also outlined the financial impact of the virus-related cancellations. The axed men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will cost the conference about $6.6 million. The NCAA’s decision to significantly lessen its distribution to conferences — down to $225 million from a previous total of approximately $600 million — has trimmed the Big 12’s expected cut of the pie to $10 million, down from the typical $24 million.


“We’re going to take some hits there,” acknowledged Bowlsby, who added the conference is still determining the financial impact of reductions in TV and sponsorship payments for spring sports.


The picture isn’t entirely bleak — Bowlsby cited Oklahoma’s appearance in the College Football Playoff, an approximate $3.5 million savings in membership participation subsidies and somewhere between $2.5 to $5 million in budget variants from not hosting conference championships as funds that could help offset the losses.


Those factors, in addition to substantial cash saved in an operating reserve, gives Bowlsby certainty that the Big 12 will be able to honor its upcoming payments to member institutions. That said, the hypothetical of a delayed or lost fall football season would bring about “major changes” that could send shockwaves throughout the entire Power Five landscape.


Bowlsby said no consideration has been given at this time to contingency plans that would be enacted if the cash cow of football is indeed wiped away by a second surge in the coronavirus, though he said the next 60 to 90 days should provide clarity. That statement rings true whether football runs as scheduled, is delayed or canceled, or returns with a much different look — Bowlsby threw out the possibility of fans sitting six feet apart, or crowds banned altogether.


“I think there probably will be lots of people that give consideration to what kind of public assembly they want to do,” Bowlsby said. “… I do think it will cause people to take pause and wonder what kinds of things they’re sharing other than enthusiasm for a game and enthusiasm for a school or a team when they go into a stadium.”


Echoing remarks made last week by KU athletic director Jeff Long, Bowlsby called the uncertainty of what lies ahead “unnerving.”


“I remember the time period after 9/11. That one was awfully difficult on our nation and yet you little by little saw returns to normalcy after three or four days and then after 10 days and then after a month,” Bowlsby said. “This just has a much longer tail. It has a great deal more uncertainty. It’s an invisible enemy that we really don’t know fully how to fight it.


“I just think it’s very presumptuous to try and force athletics decisions into an environment that’s so uncertain and so universal in its impact in our society. I just think we all have to stand back and recognize that we’re managing important games, but they’re just games. It’s that context I think that’s kind of helped me to stay focused and think about these things in ways that are perhaps a little different than we might have in the past.”


Bowlsby indicated opinions from Big 12 athletic directors and CEOs on an extra year of eligibility for winter and spring athletes remains mixed, though the former college wrestler stressed it is a “heartbreaking” situation for the those individuals whose final seasons and postseasons were wiped away. The same is true for Olympic athletes who, after taking a gap year away from collegiate competition, face their own period of limbo.


“This probably should cause us all to ponder what’s really important in college athletics and perhaps indeed in our life beyond college athletics,” Bowlsby said. “When you’re up against an opponent like we are, I think you begin to treasure some of the things you take for granted.”


Bowlsby classified this time period as “intellectually fascinating and challenging.”


“This is a new day, and I think it’s going to have to be almost entirely dictated by the circumstances once those circumstances are known,” Bowlsby said, “because right now I don’t think there’s a crystal ball on the planet that can tell us what’s going to happen in the coming months.”