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Could the 2020-21 college basketball season be played in a bubble?

Feel free to insert your Syracuse and bubble jokes in the comment section.

Virginia Tech v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

While football remains at the forefront of discussion for college sports and whether or not competition can occur amidst the coronavirus pandemic, we’re now just three months away from the scheduled start of the 2020-21 college basketball season.

In a recent interview with Andy Katz, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt stated that the college basketball season is still scheduled to begin on Nov. 10. A final ruling is expected some time in September. Conversations have started among power conferences on how the college basketball season can be salvaged.

This bit of news comes after much discussion from head coaches around the country. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski recently suggested contingency plans for the start of the season and questioned whether the NCAA Tournament could be played in April or May if need be.

Some coaches, such as Iona’s Rick Pitino, have suggested starting the season in January, while others have been opposed. Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard recommended the season to start on time while playing a conference-only schedule. He noted that some colleges aren’t bringing students back after Thanksgiving break and with students already home for one month on winter break, that creates a bubble-type environment on campus. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim backed Willard’s thinking.

This of course brings up many questions. Do teams have individual bubbles on their campuses and do conferences or schools govern testing protocols? If we move to conference-only games, when does the season start? Does the non-conference portion of the schedule get scrapped and replaced with league games? What happens when a player or staff member tests positive?

Separately from schools and conferences, would the NCAA Tournament be played in a bubble from just one location in 2021? Does the NCAA provide testing for the tournament? Can it be played in April or May? And how would the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee evaluate teams on a conference-only schedule?

It’s too soon to make a ruling on March Madness with so much unknown between now and March, but having alternative plans before the start of the season would be prudent.

The health and safety of the student-athletes has to be top priority here and that presents the great quandary for the NCAA. If teams were to be placed in bubble-type settings and players were divided from the rest of the student body, this would lay bare the artifice of the term student-athlete and loosen the NCAA’s white-knuckle grip on amateurism.

Progress has already been made on name, image and likeness and some players will be able to profit from third-party vendors as soon as 2021-22. The pandemic could be the tipping point for pay for play as the NCAA deviates from the amateurism model.

For now, NCAA officials have been steadfast in their commitment to play the 2020-21 college basketball season on time but we can expect an official ruling next month. If a college basketball season does come to fruition this year, it will likely do so without fans and in some form of bubble environment.