KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Bob Bowlsby knows you can’t change the past and says the future will be costly. The Big 12 Commissioner believes it could be “years” before schools in the conference recover from the financial blow they took when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports and then limited how games have returned.

The loss of revenue from the canceled Big 12 and NCAA tournaments last season, just as the first outbreak was forcing emergency health declarations across the country, was only the beginning. Even when college sports returned in the fall, there were curtailed schedules, reduced capacities and the added expenses of testing and contact tracing.

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“There isn’t any way to put a good face on it. You all lived it like I lived it,” Bowlsby said Monday. “If I could find out who to ask, I’d ask for a refund on 2020. It was not a good year by any measuring stick.”

Yet the admittedly impatient Bowlsby believes there is reason to feel good about the future.

The number of positive cases across the country has been on the decline. More vaccinations are being shipped to all corners of the country daily. A more normal fall sports season complete with full stadiums seems at least possible.

Then there’s the return of March Madness next week. Already, conferences are crowning their champions and preparing to send them to Indiana for the NCAA Tournament. The Big 12 opens its tournament Wednesday night.

“There were, I guess, no times during the season we really didn’t think we’d get here,” Bowlsby said, “but we weren’t ever sure exactly what kinds of things we might have to work around in order to accomplish that feat.”

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Several teams went through multi-week pauses because of outbreaks, numerous games were rescheduled and a few will not be played. But when Bowlsby arrives at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City for the opening game between TCU and Kansas State on Wednesday night, he’ll feel a lot better about the state of the conference — and the world.

“Last year was kind of surreal, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Things were moving quickly. They were happening in real time. I remember we were on the phone with our presidents and chancellors, we had all the (athletic directors) in a room — we didn’t even know about social distancing at the time. Then I remember sitting at the press conference and it was a little bit of an out-of-body experience. You don’t expect to have to say, ‘Yeah, we’re serious. We’re not playing.'”

Bowlsby has reason to be glad the Big 12 was able to get through this season.

Second-ranked Baylor has been nipping at the heels of unbeaten Gonzaga all season, its only loss coming on the road against Kansas. No. 10 West Virginia starts a run of four straight Big 12 teams in the Top 25 — the Jayhawks are next with Oklahoma State and Texas right behind them. Throw in No. 20 Texas Tech and No. 25 Oklahoma and the powerhouse league has seven ranked teams heading into the conference tournament with several a legitimate Final Four threat.

“I’m anxious to see how we play in the postseason,” Bowlsby said, “because I think our tournament will be every bit as good as the games we had during the course of the season. And we didn’t get much of a preseason. We didn’t get a lot of nonconference games. So I’m anxious to see how our teams play against outside competition.”

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

CBSDFW.com Staff