College basketball is slated to begin in a little more than two months, but there’s still plenty of uncertainty regarding whether or not it starts on time, whether it’s pushed back and even if there’s a season at all.
We polled more than 250 Division I athletic directors anonymously on five questions, ranging from their confidence regarding the 2020-21 college hoops season being played to the biggest obstacle facing the sport’s future in a Covid-19 world.
The results, along with quotes from anonymous ADs, are below.
What’s your level of confidence that we have any kind of college basketball regular season?
The regular season is slated to begin on Tuesday, Nov. 10 with the Champions Classic in Chicago. Michigan State is set to play Duke and Kansas is scheduled to play Kentucky.
Most teams haven’t bothered to release their schedules, and many haven’t finalized their non-conference schedule with all the uncertainty surrounding the season. No one has a clue what the regular season is going to look like right now, especially since we haven’t seen whether the college football season starts smoothly for the schools that have opted to play in the fall.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said one athletic director. “But let’s be honest. It’s probably going to depend on whether or not we have football.”
“I think we’ll see different regular seasons for different leagues,” added another AD. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some teams play 25 games and others wind up playing 10.”
What’s your level of confidence that we have an NCAA Tournament?
In 2019, the NCAA earned an estimated $933 million from the combination of media rights, ticket revenue and sponsorships that come with the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA then lost all of this revenue this past March and April after the season was shut down in mid-March. Most ADs feel as though the NCAA can’t afford a second straight year without March Madness and the Final Four.
“There’s too much money at stake. There’s going to be an NCAA Tournament,” said one AD.
“I’m not sure what it’s going to look like, but I think we’ll have some version of a tournament. It may wind up being 32 teams, but I just don’t see a way in which the NCAA doesn’t find a way,” added another athletic director.
Do you favor a ‘bubble’ for games?
However, that cost Adam Silver and the league somewhere around $150 million. Obviously, conferences don’t have that kind of money to spend on a bubble. But there has been plenty of chatter that a bubble is the way to go to ensure games will be played and done in a safe manner.
“We can’t afford it,” said one mid-major athletic director. “Plus, how are we really going to expect these kids to abide by rules 24 hours a day? They won’t,” said another athletic director.
“I think it’s the only way that we can pull it off,” added one high-major AD. “I know our league can do it, but my guess is a lot of the smaller leagues can’t, and that doesn’t matter to a lot of us. Maybe this is the start of a different-looking NCAA tourney?”
What’s the biggest obstacle to having a college basketball season?
If we could just get a rapid, inexpensive and accurate coronavirus test or find a way to put games in some sort of a bubble, we’d be that much closer to having a successful season. But even then, we still have liability issues to worry about? Will the school presidents sign off on games with the concerns about both short- and long-term health and safety?
“Testing is the game-changer,” said one AD. “If we can get it, and get the results back within minutes, or even hours and it’s only $5 or so, I think that will allow us to have a season. If not, I just don’t see it.”
“Even if we get a rapid test and we put this thing in bubbles, I just don’t know if some of the powers-that-be will sign off on it because of the low-term heart risks and the liability that comes along with it all,” another AD added.
Which scheduling format do you prefer for the season?
NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt told me earlier this month that the NCAA is exploring multiple options for the season, whether it’s to try and start it as planned, or push it back. The hope is that non-conference games can be played, especially so that low- and mid-major programs can get some money for their programs and also have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large.
But the NCAA needs to be able to pivot quickly if necessary.
“The smartest way is to start it during Thanksgiving when all the students go home and play as many games from there on out, because my guess is most schools won’t have in-person classes come February, anyway,” one athletic director said.
“We can’t afford to lose the guarantee games, or we may not have a program next year,” added another AD. “So we need non-conference games, even if it’s just a handful of them.”