A key step in determining what the college basketball season will look like amid the coronavirus pandemic came Wednesday with the NCAA's Division I Council approving a plan to begin the college basketball season for men and women, on Nov. 25, with practices to start Oct. 14.
The vote doesn't necessarily mean the season will begin on that date, but it's an important first step taken in setting the parameters of the season. Now it's up to conferences, such as the Big East, to determine what their schedules will look like. Then schools like UConn can begin scheduling, incorporating nonconference games and multiteam events. Teams will be allowed to play a maximum of 27 games.
"We are very excited to have a target to shoot for," UConn men's coach Dan Hurley said. "The uncertainty and speculation is over for us. To be able to put together a schedule soon is the next step with both the Big East and whatever nonconference games can be played safely. There is definitely a feeling of hope that comes with today's announcement."
The decision was first reported by CBSSports.com's Jon Rothstein.
Without the COVID-19 pandemic, the season would have started on Nov. 10. That was no longer an option, but the NCAA men's and women's basketball committees want to take advantage of the two-month window between Thanksgiving weekend and the start of the second semester, when most campuses will be closed and students home for online classes, to play games at campus sites. It would be easier to sequester teams in their individual bubbles during that window.
However, the committees had submitted a plan to start the season Nov. 21, which would have allowed several multiteam events, including the Legends Classic that involved the UConn men, to be played on time. That doubleheader, which was to include Vanderbilt, Notre Dame and Southern Cal, was scheduled for Nov. 23 and 24, and to be moved from Brooklyn to the Mohegan Sun. Now, other dates would have to be found, if possible.
Look for several multiteam events, usually scheduled for glamorous or exotic locations, to be moved to bubbles where they can be TV-only events. The Mohegan Sun, and other locations such as Disney and IMG in Florida, could be used for numerous teams to be invited into a bubble to play several nonconference games in December.
Men's teams will be allowed to play a maximum of 27 games, including 24 regular season and as many as three in multiteam events. Women's teams can schedule 23 regular season games, and play up to 27 with MTE's, or play 25 regular-season games.
For conferences that intend to start later, a minimum of 13 games vs. Division I opponents must be played for NCAA Tournament consideration. The NCAA will recommend, but not require, at least four nonconference games. No preseason scrimmages or exhibitions will be allowed; teams will have 42 days to conduct 30 practices.
Conference play, which usually starts on or around Jan. 1, could be moved up to allow more scheduling flexibility and time for testing or to navigate travel restrictions. The UConn men and women are scheduled to play each of 10 Big East opponents both home and away, but the conference could decide to shorten the season, or split into divisions to cut down on travel. Several Big East teams are located in states now on Connecticut's travel advisory, but that changes daily.
As all else in 2020, plans are tentative and the situation is fluid, and the Division I council plan to revisit scheduling and health/safety issues in October. The direction the coronavirus takes in the U.S. over the next two month could change the season, but the NCAA, after cancelling its basketball tournaments last season, wants to exhaust all methods for staging the lucrative "March Madness" in 2021. With several football conferences staging games, some with thousands of fans, within the last week, and the Big Ten changing course and playing football after all, there is momentum for getting college sports started.
"The new season start date near the Thanksgiving holiday provides the optimal opportunity to successfully launch the basketball season," NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said, via the organization's website. "It is a grand compromise of sorts and a unified approach that focuses on the health and safety of student-athletes competing towards the 2021 Division I basketball championships."
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