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America East closing in on schedule structure for 2020-21

Commissioner Amy Huchthausen discusses how to piece together a season during a pandemic

NCAA Basketball: Vermont at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

In a normal year, America East commissioner Amy Huchthausen isn’t spending days on end constructing her league’s basketball schedules. That’s not part of her job.

But over the past few weeks, it’s been her primary task.

With the 2020-21 regular season just over six weeks away, the America East is among the majority of conferences that has still not announced its full slate of games. Huchthausen says a complete schedule is still being worked through, but a scheduling model that takes into account how to navigate a global pandemic could be released in a couple weeks.

“We’ve had number of different committees within our conference governance structure looking at basketball schedules this year, and groups looking at it from a health and safety perspective,” she said. “It’s far more complicated than it’s ever been to put together a conference basketball schedule.”

Huchthausen says the America East looked at a variety of scheduling models, including a possible conference bubble, which the league ultimately decided was not necessary. The America East has certain advantages over most other conferences, mainly that its 10 full-time members are all located in contiguous northeast states with low COVID-19 infection rates compared to elsewhere in the country.

That has led the conference to believe it possible for teams to play a complete double round-robin schedule, even if the format is a little different this year.

“People believe there’s a reasonable chance to get all 18 games in,” Huchthausen said. “Then it’s just a matter of what days they’re played to accommodate testing and how can we minimize travel to make that happen.”

The key for the conference, it seems, will be flexibility. That’s no surprise, considering how many games have needed to be postponed so far during this bizarre college football season. One possibility in the America East will be to begin the conference season in December, rather than January, to give teams a free weekend or two in case games need to be moved.

But it goes beyond that. Huchthausen explained that one positive test could cause a ripple effect that causes postponements around the league — not just with that one team and its opponents. The NCAA released its guidelines late last month for how it recommends schools navigate the season, and Huchthausen says the America East will follow them, with schools providing COVID-19 tests themselves. That means players can anticipate being tested a minimum of three times per week with a 14-day quarantine for positive results.

“It’s a harsh reality, but there’s no way around it,” Huchthausen said. “We’ve got to try and construct a schedule that acknowledges that we are going to have those things. How do we construct a schedule that causes the last amount of harm throughout the whole week?”

Another harsh reality is that Huchthausen does not anticipate fans being allowed to attend America East games until, at the soonest, the second half of the conference calendar, if at all. She says, however, that state regulations for mass gatherings will dictate that more than conference policy. Again, in the name of flexibility, the America East will be prepared to play in empty gyms and in front of spectators.

While regular season answers are coming soon in the America East, the postseason is still a ways off. In a normal year, the America East playoffs are played at campus sites, with the championship game airing the morning before Selection Sunday. Huchthausen says a clear model for the 2021 championship may not be released until after the regular season starts and, even when it is, will be subject to change based on how the season goes. Just like pretty much everything in 2020.