The only thing certain about a 2020-21 college basketball season is that there is a high level of uncertainty surrounding the game. NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt recently said as much, but did say that college athletics governing body is preparing as if the new season will start on Nov. 10.
But will it?
The JUCO Decision
In mid-July, the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) announced that it was moving football to the spring and it would not start basketball until January. The decision isn’t necessarily a sign, but with the number of coronavirus cases spiking around the country playing college sports is going to be extremely difficult.
A number of schools already have their athletes back on campus. Reigning national champion Virginia is one of them. There are 123 non-football student-athletes on campus at Virginia and all have been tested for COVID-19. Only one came back positive though it is not know which sport the athlete played.
Following Pro Example
Gavitt and others, who want the 2020-21 season to begin on time, point to the success of the NBA restart. The league is playing all games at the Walt Disney World Resort and has extensive coronavirus testing in place. So far, the number of positive cases has been negligible.
The problem with looking at the NBA or even the WNBA is that college basketball games will not be played in a bubble. All 350 Division I programs are not going to quarantine themselves at one location to pull off a college basketball season.
Look at what is happening in major league baseball. With teams not playing all in one location, the Miami Marlins are now up to 18 positive COVID-19 cases. The St. Louis Cardinals have also reported multiple positive tests. The positive tests have postponed games and caused changes in the schedules of several teams.
The More Likely Result
The big issue is the rise in the number of coronavirus cases in different states across the country. Remember, the first “shutdown” in the U.S. as a result of the virus was to help hospitals and the healthcare system care for those that contracted COVID-19 and became ill.
Should the healthcare system become bogged down once again, expect states to step in and enact “shutdown” or quarantine legislation. If that happens, the last thing on anyone’s mind will be whether or not college basketball starts on time.
The other thing to consider is the actual schedule from Nov. 10 until January. For most of the 350 teams in Division I, these non-league games are “buy games.” A power conference team like, let’s say Louisville, will pay teams like Youngstown State and Indiana State to come to the Yum! Center.
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Those games become part of the Cardinals’ season ticket package. Suddenly, fans are paying just as much to see YSU’s Penguins as they are to see Duke, North Carolina, or any other big-time ACC program. Louisville makes a bunch of money.
The problem with this season is that there aren’t going to be any fans. Remember, the pro leagues have restarted but without fans in the seats. No fans mean no season tickets which mean less revenue for the program.
Is Youngstown State really going to travel to Louisville to get its butt whooped without getting paid? Plus, Louisville isn’t going to pay any school without making money on ticket sales on the back end.
The other factor is COVID-19 testing. Power conference teams will likely have the resources to go ahead with regular testing for their student-athletes. Do you think Louisville or any team is going to send its players to face Akron or North Carolina Central where the athletic budget might or might not cover regular coronavirus testing?
With that in mind, it’s looking more and more like a January start for college basketball. It’s when the real season begins anyway as teams beginning playing their full conference slate.
Starting later also gives the country time to get the coronavirus under control and possibly even find a vaccine. Whatever happens, don’t expect the 2020-21 college basketball season to start on time.
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Rick, a Generation X-er, who now lives just north of the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. A former high school, college, and professional football player, Rick now spends his time as a high school coach and as a personal quarterback trainer. An all-state high school quarterback, he went on to become an Academic All-American at Division II Indiana University of PA. He later coached at his alma mater helping lead the program to the 1990 NCAA Division II national championship game. Rick has also served as a high school head coach and as an assistant in Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.
His passion for sports writing started when he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper and continued when he worked as a sportswriter for the Jamestown (New York) Post-Journal in the early 1990s. A true sports fanatic, Rick enjoys all things Pittsburgh: Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. The Immaculate Reception, the 1979 We Are Family Pirates, and the ’91-’92 Penguins are among his favorites. After working as an educator and athletic director for several years, he again took up sports writing and has contributed to several websites and publications, including Coach & Player magazine, X & O Labs, American Football Monthly, and many others.
When not consumed with coaching, watching, thinking about, or writing about football and other seasonal sports, he finds himself working out like he was still in college and reading everything from military history to Brad Thor novels. Rick has also been chasing rock god stardom as a drummer who has played with bands that have opened for the likes of Fuel, Days of the New, and Alien Ant Farm. He continues to play with his church worship group. Most importantly, Rick is married to the love of his life, Lisa, and has two beautiful daughters.