Basketball season almost certainly a go
Don't expect the mess that became of Power Five football the past few weeks and months — resulting in some conferences playing, or trying to at least, and others not — to repeat itself when it comes to basketball.
While it's not a certainty yet that there will be a basketball season, it's at least a near certainty.
"I expect we're going to play basketball," Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski said. "I absolutely expect that."
Purdue coach Matt Painter, part of numerous committees and organizations involved in such matters, has said much the same, though no one can say at this point what the actual season will look like or whether smaller conferences may absolutely participate.
As with everything else in the COVID-19 world, it won't look the same.
On Sept. 16, the NCAA will announce its plans for moving forward with college basketball. A key difference between football and basketball is just that: That centralized leadership from the NCAA office in Indianapolis will be in place, unlike football, where the P5 leagues are largely autonomous, not only from the NCAA but from each other.
College basketball has what would amount to a commissioner — Dan Gavitt, the NCAA's senior vice president for basketball.
That centralized leadership should mean a coordinated approach to logistics, across-the-board standards and the carrying out of a season, and certainly an NCAA Tournament, from which revenue is an absolute must this year after last year's cancelation required the NCAA to call in its disruption-of-business insurance policy to recoup some of the lost money.
The season likely won't be a full one, as a Nov. 25 start date has been proposed and is widely expected to be adopted. That date would land right around the time when many college campuses will clear out, creating organic bubble-type conditions, as college programs had in place during the summer.
Purdue's season, as it stands today, is due to tip off Nov. 10. The 15-day gap between that date and the proposed start would cut off home games vs. Evansville, Indiana State and Rider and the opening game of the Cancun Challenge, which has been moved to Florida, if it's played.
Non-conference play is up in the air.
Before ultimately postponing its season, the Big Ten was the first football league to switch to a conference-only model for 2020, in part to ensure a consistent standard for testing and mitigation.
"The one thing is when you have to travel, and you're playing people coming into Mackey Arena or we're going other places, now if it's not a league or a school that'll have the same protocols as your own conference, there are questions you're not going to get answered," Painter said several weeks ago. "You're going off someone's word about what's going on in that situation and that gets a little bit dicey and probably exceeds a lot of peoples' comfort."
Once a start date for the season is settled, the framework of that season will be determined.
It could involve some non-conference play — CBS Sports reported Tuesday on intricate plans being laid out for at least one preseason bubble possibility at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut — or it could result in conferences playing league-only schedules. For the Big Ten, that could mean a full 26-game round-robin without non-conference play or limited non-conference plus a standard 20-game conference slate, plus a Big Ten Tournament, then an NCAA Tournament.
What the NCAA Tournament will look like is anyone's guess at this stage. CBS Sports reported Wednesday morning that the ACC will propose that every Division I team be part of the NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA had already reportedly worked to trademark the term "Battle In The Bubble," a hint toward its formatting plans for March Madness.
"I think it'll probably be a modestly reduced number of games," Bobinski said of the college basketball season to come. "I don't think we'll go from 30 to 18. I think we'll go from 31 or whatever the number usually is down to somewhere in the mid-20s or thereabouts, that would be my guess. Whether that includes an expanded conference season or a conference-only season or a smattering of non-conference opportunities, I think all that is to be sorted out here the next couple weeks."
There is a significant question for the Big Ten (and Pac-12): In light of its presidents voting to postpone fall sports, can basketball tip off during the window of time when football was supposed to be playing?
That remains to be seen, but over the coming weeks and months, the Big Ten will be working to green light a return for football. Part of that equation, Bobinski said, will be access to rapid-response COVID-19 testing, which could occur this fall, as well as detailed protocols being put in place for contact tracing and the mitigation of potential cardiac concerns.
Should those boxes be checked as part of the return-of-football process, they'd certainly apply to basketball.
And, basketball presents slightly fewer challenges.
"Obviously, basketball is a much more manageable population size," Bobinski said. "You're not dealing with the numbers that you are with football in particular. And so it's something you can get your arms around and hopefully find a way to do it in a responsible and very safe way."
Again, though, it will look very different.
While It remains to be seen whether spectators will be part of the 2020-2021 college basketball experience, it's a reasonable assumption that the game's storied environments will be at least watered down by limited capacity.
"I'm hopeful we can (have fans in Mackey Arena)," Bobinski said. "How many remains to be seen, but I'm very hopeful we can. I know that a fan-less venue is the ultimate fallback, and you don't want to take that off the table, but it's not my idea of a very fun environment.
"But the most fun environment these days is just being able to compete. Whatever it takes to make that happen is ultimately what we'll be in favor of."
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