The state of Texas Athletics during COVID-19

Carter Yates

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the March 12 issue of The Daily Texan.

Division I football and men’s basketball are the sports that almost entirely fund university athletic departments. They stop for no one — not even a pandemic.

In the 2020-2021 academic year, the Big 12 Conference completed a college football season with limited capacities and numerous cancellations. They’re now on track to crown a postseason conference tournament champion in basketball for the first time since 2019. 

But while the record books will show that Texas, Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor completed seasons in football and basketball, people will not soon forget how different sports looked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Colin Post, a TCU junior and the sports editor for TCU 360, said the university’s decision to limit capacity and curb pregame festivities, while logical, took the atmosphere out of college football.

“At TCU, things like tailgating for students is a huge deal,” Post said. “I think especially at that point where we were in August, everyone was pretty understanding about just where the country was with the virus. It wasn’t a big backlash thing, but there definitely was this sense of disappointment.”

In terms of limiting fan attendance, TCU was no different from other Texas schools in the Big 12 Conference. Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor all shrunk their stadium capacities and abandoned normal game day traditions in an effort to abide by social distancing protocols.

However, at Baylor, the decision to hold on to a sage game day ritual proved costly, said DJ Ramirez, a Baylor senior and sports editor of the Baylor Lariat.

“Baylor has the ‘Baylor Line’ tradition where you get the freshmen that are running across the field before every game,” Ramirez said. “They had these bracelets that were supposed to track who you came in contact with. After that first game, there was a spike in COVID cases on campus, and they were trying to figure out if the bracelets had worked.”

Aside from a more pedestrian fan experience, the results on the field and the hardwood often proved disappointing for Texas schools. The Longhorns fired head coach Tom Herman after a disappointing football year. A year after appearing in the Sugar Bowl, Baylor’s football team finished at a dismal 2–7 with a new head coaching staff that couldn’t overcome multiple postponements, Ramirez said.

“A lot of the offensive line especially was affected,” Ramirez said. “You wouldn’t always have guys that were practicing at the same time. You had guys that were missing one week, and they would get back the next week. You didn’t really have a consistency going on.”

In basketball, TCU stumbled to a 13–13 record after missing close to 100 preseason practices, Post said. 

“I don’t want to say, ‘If it weren’t for COVID, TCU basketball would’ve been phenomenal this year,’ but the nation did not get to see the true TCU basketball team this season because of COVID,” Post said.

As the NCAA plunges full steam ahead into March Madness, Texas schools are left to reflect on challenging seasons with no option to point the finger at anyone but themselves. 

“I think, honestly, both football and basketball took a hit,” Post said. “But at the same time (TCU head basketball coach) Jamie Dixon was saying the other day, ‘You can’t make excuses, everyone is dealing with it.’”