Grab my hand, friend, it’s almost time to emerge from the abyss that is the 2020 offseason.
The Longest Offseason Ever is set to end on Nov. 25 for Division I men’s and women’s basketball, the NCAA announced on Wednesday.
This is welcome news after the 2019-20 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, depriving fans of most major conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament. Putting tip-off the day before Thanksgiving — two weeks later than normal — means the majority of Division I schools will not have students on campus when the season begins, making COVID-19 transmission less likely.
NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said in a statement:
The new season start date near the Thanksgiving holiday provides the optimal opportunity to successfully launch the basketball season. 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.
In its release on Wednesday, the NCAA also outlined how teams could go about filling their schedules. For men’s basketball, teams can play a maximum of 24 regular season games, plus a three-team multi-team event (think Maui, for example), 25 games plus a two-team MTE (like the NIT Season Tip-Off), or 25 games without an MTE. Knowing that many teams will likely have games called off due to positive COVID-19 tests, the minimum number of games played to qualify for the NCAA Tournament has been set at 13 — a 50% decrease compared to a normal season.
The NCAA also announced that preseason games and closed scrimmages before the 25th will not be permitted.
However, these parameters represent only the most bare-bones outline of a regular. There is plenty still to be determined, as now more than 350 Division I schools have just two months to figure out their non-conference schedules, and 32 conferences need to figure out how they will deal with league play. Rumors have been rampant these past few weeks about bubbles in Orlando, Connecticut, South Dakota, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that could host multiple MTEs at a time, as well as, potentially, other non-conference games between teams on-site.
But we have still yet to see a clear outline of how those bubbles would work, what the testing procedures will be, and what contingency plans will be in place in the event of a positive test. Those questions will have to be answered for both non-conference and conference play, and that’s not even getting into potential conference and postseason tournaments. This is all assuming there are not dramatic spikes in COVID-19 cases that prevent many teams from competing (or, you could just be like college football and pretend that none of it matters).
With time running short and a logistical nightmare ahead for more than 700 men’s and women’s basketball teams, expect a flurry of news in the coming weeks. We’ll be here to cover it all and to pray that we can pull off a season. Wednesday was a positive first step.