GoldandBlack - Now, what about basketball season?
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Now, what about basketball season?

Purdue basketball
After football in the Big Ten and other places was postponed, the focus shifts to basketball.

The wound of the Big Ten's postponement of all fall sports remains raw, but soon, focus will have to shift to one of the next of many questions on the horizon: Basketball season.

At Purdue, where the schedule has already been affected by COVID-19's impact on college sports, the season was due to tip off Nov. 10.

Whether that can happen or not is anyone's guess at this point.

"Who knows?" Purdue coach Matt Painter said last week, prior to the Big Ten's move on football. "We could start the regular season in early November, we could start the regular season in the middle of December, we could start the regular season in January or we could not start the regular season ever. That's not out of the realm of thinking.

"I don't think (a full cancelation is) going to happen. I believe we'll definitely play conference games. I think we'll definitely play the NCAA Tournament. That's my mindset but I'm using the word 'definitely,' when I'm not the one in control. The pandemic is in control. When things are taken out of your hands, you're in a tough spot. But I'm looking forward to playing a bunch of conference games and playing in the NCAA Tournament and I hope we can play non-conference because we've got a great non-conference slate."

The only game Purdue has explicitly lost to this point is a late-December meeting with Yale, due to the Ivy League calling off fall sports long before the Big Ten did. Purdue is expected to replace that game — at least on paper — with a visit from Lipscomb, but all non-conference play, especially against low- and mid-major opponents, may be more theoretical than real at the moment.

When Big Ten football shifted to a conference-only fall schedule before walking away from even that, it did so in part to control coronavirus testing and oversight standards, which can vary in proportion to the wide range of resources available to NCAA membership programs.

Testing is not cheap, and Purdue — and its peer-level programs — can afford it at a level the Incarnate Words and Evansvilles of the world, likely cannot. Barring significant advancements in testing and its related costs, that consideration may not go away any time soon.

"I think that's the thing with going Big Ten to Big Ten," Painter said. "Now, you set the protocol. Here's where it is, we know it's not going to be perfect, but this has given us the best chance in terms of health and safety."

The consensus for some time among coaches has been skeptical toward a full season being played, multiple coaching sources suggesting the likeliest scenario to be a season that starts in December (after students leave campus) or January and may only include conference play. From a Big Ten perspective that would be consistent with what would have been its approach to football this fall.

Asked whether it's conceivable that high-major conferences could come together and agree on standards for oversight that could make marquee non-conference competition more feasible — and non-conference play is more important in college basketball than football from a postseason-qualification perspective — Painter ruled out nothing, but did concede the thought might be far-fetched.

The NCAA, in its COVID-19 standards, categorizes basketball as a "full-contact" sport, same as football, but the basketball calculus will be very different from football.

Prior to Tuesday's news, Painter was enthusiastic to see how football worked out, and what it might mean for basketball. Now, the Big Ten, and Pac-12, at least won't be part of it. (The SEC, Big 12 and ACC say they are moving ahead with plans to play, the results of those plans remaining to be seen.)

For one thing, the NCAA is much more involved, and invested, in basketball, due to its stake in the NCAA Tournament, and the fact that in football, the Power Five conferences have considerable autonomy, and so national leadership on the football side didn't necessarily lie in Indianapolis. It lied with five conference commissioners and their university presidents.

College basketball — unlike college football's Power Five — has a central leader, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA's senior vice president for basketball. A second canceled NCAA Tournament is a prospect no one will want to stare down, and so it stands to reason to suggest that even the bare minimum — simply a spring season — would be on the table if all else fails.

For another, time remains on basketball's side.

Flu season's ramifications could be a great unknown, but the hope will be that America's coronavirus outlook will reach a point where things can be viewed as more palatable. Basketball season would line up closer to the best-case scenario for vaccine development, but that may be an unrealistic expectation even if a safe and effective product comes to bear quickly, because distribution will be no small task and there may be no guarantees college basketball players move to the front of the line.

Additionally, testing resources continue to evolve, and continually become more available, faster, cheaper and more effective. The hope for basketball is that when that time comes, highly affordable, day-of-results testing resources will be available.

And, the numbers in basketball are very different, and less people suggests less problems from a management perspective, whether that relates to travel, workouts, competition, whatever it may be. An NBA-type "bubble" is an impossibility, but 13-15-player rosters are much easier to insulate from exposure of all kinds, then a hundred-plus-man football roster.

Basketball will present very different questions and very different challenges than football, but also there will be stark differences between the two In terms of potential viability.

Tuesday, Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski said that conversations on the next wave of sports to come start now.

Where they lead remains to be seen.

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