Men's college basketball: Where, when and how a 2020-21 season could be played amid COVID-19New Haven Register, Conn. — David Borges New Haven Register, Conn.
Sept. 13-- Sep. 13--By most accounts, it appears there will be some semblance of a 2020-21 men's college basketball season.
When, where, and how the season is played remains a question for which no one yet has an answer. Some of those answers may become a bit clearer on Wednesday, when the Division I Council will meet to consider the multiple recommendations surrounding the start of the season.
It's a virtual given that the season will not start at its usual time in early November. On Friday, Stadium's Jeff Goodman reported that the men's and women's basketball oversight committees are proposing to begin the 2020-21 season on Nov. 21. That makes sense. In-person classes at most schools in the nation will end at Thanksgiving break and not resume until the beginning of the spring semester. That leaves a nearly two-month window where campuses will be near-empty and student-athletes won't have to juggle sports with schoolwork.
The Nov. 21 start would also accommodate the numerous multi-team events (the Maui Invitational, Paradise Jam, Legends Classic, etc.) that begin at the time of the year. In theory, those events could still be played, though likely in different locations than originally scheduled.
Indeed, if the question of when the season starts is answered by the Division I Council on Wednesday, the tougher and far more elaborate question of where games are going to take place will then take center stage.
BUBBLES? PODS? MINI-TOURNAMENTS?
The number of proposals circulating in the media in recent weeks can leave your head spinning. Mark Blaudschun of si.com, citing industry sources, recently reported that most major conferences are considering clustering several teams in one spot for several days in what would amount to mini-tournaments. That would cut down travel, maximize health protocol issues and get in as many games as possible in case COVID-19 cases spike during the winter.
For the Big East, that could mean getting East Coast schools like UConn, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova and Georgetown at a neutral site -- perhaps Mohegan Sun Arena. The league's Midwest schools like Creighton, Marquette, DePaul, Butler and Xavier could hold their own mini-tourney at a neutral site, Blaudschun theorized.
This concept, which could be repeated at other junctures of the season, could help with conference play -- though it doesn't explain how, say, UConn would be able to play any of the Midwest teams. It's also merely a proposal at this point. A conference call between Big East officials and the league's coaches and athletic directors on Thursday yielded few answers and, in fact, seemed to indicate both sides are looking at each other for ideas.
But it's the non-conference schedule that may pose the most questions.
According to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, The Gazelle Group, which operates numerous East Coast multi-team events (MTEs), is proposing a bubble model at Mohegan Sun that would involve teams slated to appear in those MTEs, along with others. The event would be played during a two-week window in December.
UConn, which is slated to play in the Legends Classic Nov 23-24 at Barclays Center, would be one of those teams. It would give teams a chance to get in multiple non-conference games, mostly against high-level competition.
And there is still a possibility that games could be played on campus, particularly during the window in which the general student population is away on break. Playing a more regional non-conference schedule, where teams could bus in on game day, play, then bus back home without needing to stay at a hotel, could help matters.
TESTING, TESTING, TESTING
Really, so much of the ability to play college basketball this season depends on COVID-19 testing protocols.
"I think testing is really the lynchpin in this whole thing, if you really want to minimize the possibility of people becoming exposed or infected during competition," said UConn athletics director David Benedict.
Benedict is hoping for a testing system that can achieve results within hours, even minutes, as is the case right now inside the NBA bubble in Orlando.
"I think that dramatically changes the ability to ensure that whoever you're putting on the court, at the moment, does not have covid," Benedict said. "That's a lot different than saying you've got to test people 72 hours before they can play. Well, what happens between the 72 hours? You don't know."
Benedict believes testing will continue to advance over the next couple of months.
"Will it be financially feasible to test everybody every day during the basketball season? I don't know," he said. "But testing has gotten significantly better from a cost standpoint. It just needs to continue to be more accurate and more readily available to everyone around the country. Could you start transporting these machines with your teams? You take a rapid-test machine with you, you test, everyone's negative, you play."
What does this all mean for local college teams? For UConn, it could mean facing the same teams (Notre Dame, USC and Vanderbilt) it was slated to play in the Legends Classic, as well as a few other mid-to-high-major teams in a Mohegan Sun bubble. It could also mean a slated Nov. 28 bout with Central Connecticut State is still in play.
That early-December bout at Florida would seem a long-shot, though. Right? If testing procedures are improved, not necessarily.
"Assuming that Florida's not a hot spot in 21/2 months, why would you not play the game?," Benedict asked. "If you're gonna play, why would you not play that game vs. playing any other game? If you're testing people day -- of, what difference does it mean if you're playing in Maryland or Florida or North Carolina?"
Quinnipiac was slated to be a part of the Mohegan Sun Tip-Off Classic, playing at UCF and at Rhode Island. Coach Baker Dunleavy believes the tournament will still happen, only in a bubble at Mohegan Sun.
Dunleavy is also confident that the Bobcats will be able to play a 20-game schedule in the MAAC -- though with testing, potential postponements, etc., it might just take a little longer.
"Our league is located in three states (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut)," Dunleavy pointed out. "For the most part, those states have done a good job keeping the virus count low right now. We'll be busing to all the games. I think it gives us an advantage over conferences that need to fly, travel great lengths, and the logistics are a little tougher.
"As long as we're testing properly, which we will, it makes sense."
Then there's Yale. All Ivy League sports for 2020 have already been shelved. About half of Yale's student-athlete population, including several basketball players, is taking leaves of absence this semester, and more could follow.
The idea of playing games in a bubble may not sit well with the Ivy League, which was the first to cancel its championship tournament in March. Maybe there's a few non-conference games and a league schedule starting in January. Maybe not.
At least one prominent member of Yale's athletics community believes that the Ivy League will not have a basketball season.
"If anyone's not playing," that source said, "it's going to be us."
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