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SDSU, college basketball world await NCAA scheduling decision

The San Diego Union-Tribune — Mark Zeigler The San Diego Union-Tribune

Sept. 15--The college basketball season could start Nov. 20, 21, 23, 25. Or Dec. 4. Or not until January.

Or maybe it will be open Nov. 10, as previously scheduled, after all.

The NCAA's Division I Council is expected to pick a date when it meets virtually Wednesday, along with a whole host of other parameters and guidelines for the 2020-21 season of winter sports. Then the real chaos will begin, with San Diego State and everyone else scrambling to schedule new games or reschedule existing ones wiped out by a later start or junking them all for an extended bubble.

One Div. I coach from a power conference said he usually relies on his well-connected athletic director to forecast NCAA winds. This time, his AD confided he had no clue.

"We're living in a nobody-knows world," a coach from another program said.

For the past few weeks, Nov. 25 — the day before Thanksgiving — was widely expected to become the new start date after the Div. I men's and women's basketball oversight committees both proposed it to the NCAA. That changed last weekend to Nov. 21, likely to accommodate nonconference tournaments scheduled for the previous weekend.

But Nov. 21 is a Saturday, and there's speculation the NCAA won't want to detract from college football and pick Nov. 20 or 23 instead.

The idea of pushing the season to late November is that most universities are sending students home for Thanksgiving and not bringing them back until the spring semester, creating de facto "soft" bubbles on empty campuses to play nonconference games. The oversight committees also proposed decreasing the maximum number of games from 31 to 28 if you play in a nonconference tournament and 26 if you don't.

Another possible guideline: Lowering the minimum number of games for postseason eligibility from 25 to 13 and granting flexibility in how automatic qualifiers are determined for the NCAA Tournament, so cash-strapped leagues can play abbreviated conference-only schedules.

SDSU, like all but 20 of the 357 Div. I programs, has not issued an official schedule for the 2020-21 season. But a Nov. 21 start would impact three known dates: Nov. 10 against Alcorn State, Nov. 14 against Fullerton and Nov. 18 at Grand Canyon.

Alcorn State and Fullerton are "buy" games, where SDSU pays them to come to Viejas Arena, and likely won't be rescheduled. Grand Canyon is part of a home-and-home series that started last year at Viejas Arena; it could be pushed to late November or December, or postponed until next season.

A fourth game, Dec. 10 at Arizona State, was provisionally canceled last month when the Pac-12 announced it wouldn't play any sports during the fall, although there are rumblings the conference is reconsidering for basketball.

That leaves the Aztecs with five other known nonconference games: Dec. 1 against BYU, Dec. 5 at Saint Louis and three in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu over Christmas. Of those, only BYU seems solid.

Saint Louis is part of the Mountain West-Atlantic 10 Challenge, which may not happen. Athletic directors from both conferences have held discussions about the efficacy of flying teams cross-country during a pandemic for a single game. One option is to bring teams to a neutral "bubble" location and play several times. Another is to simply postpone the inaugural crossover series until next season.

Equally tenuous is the Diamond Head Classic. Hawaii still is not open to visitors without a strict 14-day quarantine, and the field would be down to seven without Arizona State. One option is to play the entire event on the mainland in a less restrictive state, or split it with the West Coast teams going one place and East Coast teams going another.

The Battle 4 Atlantis headlined by Duke, hosted by a five-star resort in the Bahamas, reportedly is moving to Sioux Falls, S.D., where the daytime temperature on Thanksgiving last year was 55 degrees cooler (27 instead of 82). The Maui Invitational, traditionally played at the Lahaina Civic Center on the three days before Thanksgiving, is said to be considering Indianapolis or Asheville, N.C.

Of perhaps greater concern for the Aztecs is what happens before they play. The university's athletic teams "paused" for two weeks on Sept. 2 as part of a campus-wide shutdown amid a spike in coronavirus cases across the overall student body. Athletic Director John David Wicker said he expects athletes to return to practice Thursday.

NCAA rules typically allow Div. I basketball teams to begin preseason practice 42 days before their first game, which would be Oct. 10 for a Nov. 21 opening day. That gives coach Brian Dutcher barely three weeks to ramp up conditioning and individual skills for five-on-five workouts, and that's if state and county regulations even permit it. (Currently, they do not.)

Before the two-week pause, players had just returned to the JAM Center for the first time since March and were allowed to use basketballs. And even then, only individual players could work out alone and coaches weren't allowed to touch the balls.

One fear was they'd have to start over Thursday with their return-to-play protocols.

"Our goal is we should be able to pick up where we left off for those sports that were already on campus," Wicker said. "We'll continue moving forward through our phases in our repopulation plan. We're comfortable that we'll be prepared to play (basketball) on Nov. 21 or Nov. 25, or whatever date the NCAA chooses.

"It will most likely look different getting there than it has in the past, but I don't know that we're concerned we won't be ready to play."

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