If the existential dread around whether college football gets played wasn’t enough, there’s also the dread that follows around college basketball. We already missed the NCAA Tournament this spring. Could we be looking at a full lost season ahead? Or at least one that doesn’t start until 2021?
At least if you ask Syracuse Orange men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim, it’s worth pushing forward. He spoke with ACC Radio’s Chris Spatola on Monday about COVID-19 concerns and the uncertainty around the coming college hoops season. This selection in particular was worth highlighting:
"Are we just going to give up and sit home for the next 2 years?"@therealboeheim reacted to the possibility of canceling the college football season with @Chris_Spatola on ACC Radio! @Cuse_MBB pic.twitter.com/KtUrd5C4O1— College Sports on SiriusXM (@SXMCollege) August 10, 2020
Boeheim notes that younger people are at a lesser risk for some of COVID’s worst side effects, though that doesn’t necessarily get into the heart issues and other complications that have athletics administrators around the country most concerned right now. Jim also notes that a lot of players that had it “at college” arrived with positive tests from home, then eventually tested negative on campus and were able to get back to practice.
While that’s true in some cases, football programs like Clemson did see climbing case numbers for a bit once they arrived, and the effects of COVID threaten to sideline even some standout players like the Tigers’ Xavier Thomas — who is already redshirting because of it. And obviously, it just takes one initial positive to create a bigger problem, as Major League Baseball has witnessed.
The key to any sport — college basketball, football or anything else — going off without a hitch is uniform testing a proper “bubble.” Those precautions are what has made the NBA, NHL and WNBA’s respective returns relatively successful so far. MLS also stayed on the field just fine in Orlando after initial tests sidelined FC Dallas and Nashville SC. Of course, leaving neutral sites in favor of traveling is a different story.
Boeheim’s comments indicate that we (society, his sport) can’t just sit and wait for 2-3 years, and he’s correct there. I think there’s an opportunity for college basketball to be played this season, as Boeheim pushes for, but it also can’t look like the normal season. James looked at what a college basketball “bubble” could look like for NCAA hoops recently, and the keys are testing, control over players’ whereabouts and a centralized location. Having 351 teams zigzagging around the country this season simply isn’t going to work.
So yes, I agree with Jim that we can’t just wait a couple years ‘til all of this is done, but there are ways to return safely, and we need to make sure guidelines are followed to allow that to happen. Pro leagues can do all of this more easily because they don’t have to keep up the amateurism charade, but college basketball — with much smaller roster sizes than football — can have a go at it, too. It’s just going to take some creativity, stringent rules and some real resources put forward.
Given the way smaller college football conferences have been postponing seasons, I’d guess that any basketball season likely relies on who has the money to make it happen. That probably means the Power Five, plus maybe the Big East and a handful of others. Is that enough to comprise a real season? There’s a lot more that needs to be decided before we start talking actual games. Hopefully, the powers that be are already hard at work figuring out how a season can be played safely.