Since early September, the opening day of the NCAA Division I basketball season has been established as Nov. 25. That’s the day before Thanksgiving, in case you haven’t a calendar handy.
And that is when college basketball season will begin.
NCAA vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt told Sporting News that he is “fully confident … very much so” that the season will begin as scheduled.
Because of the nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases, the suspension of basketball activity at several colleges because of positive tests and contact tracing, and the Ivy League’s decision to cancel its winter sports seasons, there has been some concern that it all will lead to NCAA basketball altering its plan for the 2020-21 season.
Gavitt told SN that he has fielded some questions from member schools, but, “Honestly, not many. There is a respect level for what the heck is going on and the challenges that all of it presents. But the preparation has been very thorough. The testing we absolutely need to have available has come through.
“I’m also rational to know we’re going to have disruptions, including the very first week of the season. And that’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality of what’s going to be an unusual season.”
As of Friday morning, the programs at Connecticut, Minnesota, Seton Hall and roughly a dozen other Division I schools had paused their preseason preparations because positive COVID tests mandated a temporary shutdown.
Big East protocols call for a team with a positive test to pause for two weeks, as recommended by the CDC. That could impact the opening games for the Huskies and Pirates.
That 14-day period is a concern for coaches. It could have a major impact on basketball’s ability to operate successfully. It is hoped that data gleaned from football and other sports that have engaged in regular testing might eventually allow that shutdown to shrink to as few as eight days.
Gavitt said it makes sense for Division I basketball to have as much time as possible to stage its regular season and to take full advantage of competing during the upcoming semester hiatus, which at some schools will last throughout December and January. There will be far fewer people on campus during those breaks and far fewer activities (parties, packed bars) that could become problematic for athletes relative to the virus.
Although positivity rates in many communities have risen above 10 percent, major athletic programs testing regularly — even those that have had to cancel or postpone competition — often have rates far below 1 percent.
We have seen four postponements in SEC football this week, which naturally has led to headlines and conversation about the impact of the spike on college sports. But more than 85 percent of all scheduled FBS games have taken place.
“There’s been some really unfortunate things. And we’re going to see it in basketball,” Gavitt said. “And it’s going to stink. But it doesn’t mean that’s the majority.”
Gavitt told SN that the NCAA men’s basketball committee — we know it as the “selection committee” — has been meeting regularly to discuss plans for the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The 2020 event was among the first major championships canceled when the pandemic struck the U.S. last March, but Gavitt said the NCAA is “quite far along” planning for the coming editions (men’s and women’s) of March Madness.
“Relatively soon, we’re going to make some decisions on the tournament,” Gavitt said. “They aren’t going to be incredibly dramatic, but hopefully welcome and done in the interests of having safe and successful tournaments. “
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