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NCAA to decide shape and form for college basketball seasons on Wednesday, with UConn men and women awaiting schedules

Hartford Courant — Dom Amore Hartford Courant

Sept. 15--The shape, form and timeline of the college basketball season will be up for a vote Wednesday, when the NCAA Division I Council considers the proposals put forward by the men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees.

If the proposal, as reported by various outlets, is approved, the season could start Nov. 21, only 11 days delayed from the original date, and allow for schedules of up to 28 games, only three less than normal. That could allow for the Legends Classic, which includes the UConn men, to be played as scheduled, though in a bubble at the Mohegan Sun rather than at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Hall of Fame Showcase, a women’s multi-team event that also includes Quinnipiac, could be played as scheduled at Mohegan Sun Nov. 28-29.

There is still much to be determined, as the coronavirus is far from under control, and the rate of infection varies from state to state and there are travel restrictions. But there is increasing confidence that a meaningful season will be played, especially as major college football and NFL games have launched, in some cases with thousands of fans in attendance, during the last week.

Once the NCAA establishes parameters, conferences can make their decisions and then individual programs can begin assembling schedules.

Here are some of the particulars of a possible season:

Multi-team events

The college basketball seasons were originally scheduled to start Nov 10. Various concepts floated had included a conference-only schedule delayed until Jan. 1, or incorporating nonconference games into a season starting Dec. 4, or Nov. 25.

As the use of bubble environments, such as Mohegan Sun or Disney, for multi-team events has become more viable, the oversight committees decided on Nov. 21 to coincide with the starting date of several of those events and the closing of most campuses to in-person learning. The Naismith Hall of Fame and the Gazelle Group run a number of those events, including the Legends Classic, and have been working together, with Mohegan Sun, on forming a bubble and scheduling. If the Legends Classic is moved to Mohegan Sun, a bubble could allow UConn, Notre Dame, Southern Cal and Vanderbilt to play their semifinal/final games. The Huskies had home games scheduled against High Point and Monmouth as part of the Legends event; perhaps these games could be rescheduled in the bubble.

More nonconference games

Conference-only schedules would make it difficult arrive at fair metrics for tournament selection, so the committee has proposed a recommendation that teams make every effort to play at least four nonconference games. The Mohegan Sun has proposed inviting as many as 16 teams into its bubble, where players would be tested frequently and able to move from the hotel to the arena and any meeting/practice spaces without exposure to the casino’s public areas, between Dec 9 and 20. This would give teams the opportunity to play a series of nonconference games in addition to multi-team events.

Schools would have to restructure existing contracts to accommodate changes. If the right kind of testing can become available, cost-efficient with quick results, it’s possible nonconference games could be played at campus sites. The UConn men have a high-profile game at Florida in December, for example.

Campus bubbles/conference play

As fall sports were being canceled or postponed, some, notably Seton Hall men’s coach Kevin Willard, were urging that rather than push back the start of the season, games be scheduled to take advantage of the two-month window when campuses would be mostly empty, from the Friday before Thanksgiving to the start of the spring semester in mid- to late January. This idea has gained traction and could allow for conference games to get off to a safe start at campus sites. So far, UConn has not reported any positive tests among its men’s and women’s basketball players, even as students returned to campus and there have been COVID outbreaks.

The Big East, which includes UConn beginning this season, has 10 teams and had planned for each to play home and home. This could be modified, or there could be a split to east and west divisions to limit travel. The idea of conference bubbles lasting for weeks seems to have cooled off.

Postseason

The ACC has suggested expanding the NCAA Tournament so every team could play postseason, others have suggested going to 96 teams. These plans appear to have little or no support. The oversight committee is suggesting teams be limited to 28 games if they play in a multi-team event, or 26 if not. For league such as the Ivy League, which has determined not to begin until Jan. 1, a minimum of 13 games against Division I opponents would be required for Tournament consideration. Plans for March Madness could include regional bubbles.

Dom Amore can be reached at damore@courant.com

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