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College basketball trying to formulate game plan to play while pandemic has forced fall delays

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 13, 2020

Whether the Gonzaga Bulldogs and coach Mark Few can play this winter will depend on finding creative solutions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Whether the Gonzaga Bulldogs and coach Mark Few can play this winter will depend on finding creative solutions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Wheels are turning in college basketball circles in hopes of having a season and an NCAA Tournament.

With practices slated to begin in late September and games as early as Nov. 10, hoops has some time to craft game plans and back-up plans. College basketball can’t emulate the NBA or WNBA bubbles in Florida, but that doesn’t prevent the possibility of “mini bubbles” or pods of conference teams meeting at one site over a short period of time.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of last season’s NCAA Tournament and has sacked college football for most conferences this fall, requires outside-the-box thinking, Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said.

“There is no concept that is off limits because the goal is to find a reasonable and safe way for coaching staffs and athletes to compete,” Roth said. “The belief is we can get there, but there are going to have to be sacrifices made. There are basketball coaches and leagues having on-going discussions of what it might look like.”

Will the season and/or the NCAA Tournament get pushed back? Will there be nonconference games? Will holiday and/or conference tournaments be played? Will the NCAA Tournament format change? How often will athletes be tested for the virus?

There are no firm answers at this point, and Roth acknowledges that a lot of things “both positive and negative” in the next month or so could change the basketball landscape.

The WCC announced Thursday the postponement of fall sports competition but noted it “remains fully committed and continues to work closely with campus leadership on plans to ensure a safe environment to conduct the 2020-21 men’s and women’s basketball seasons in the winter.”

The cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament, which generates nearly $1 billion annually, had a dramatic impact on athletic departments’ budgets across the country.

“It’s extremely important for the enterprise of college athletics, all divisions,” Roth said. “If you go two years without (the tournament), it could be really devastating. We have to figure out a way to do it safely.”

What might that entail?

“We recognize what’s going on around the country and we’ve been making plans and contingencies for a change if necessary,” NCAA senior vice president for basketball Dan Gavitt told NCAA.com’s Andy Katz. “Remain very confident that we’re going to have a basketball season, albeit different and maybe altered as necessary by the virus that we don’t control. Very confident (the tournament) is going to happen.”

The mini bubbles and pods concepts appear to be gaining support. Gonzaga, for example, would appear capable of hosting a pod with three regulation courts in three buildings.

“We can’t take 350-some Division I teams and stick them in the same bubble,” Roth said. “I do believe there are all kinds of possibilities. To function, I think it’s going to be a little different than in the past.

“That’s what’s happening in college athletics, we’re trying to make the best decisions.”

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The basketball court at the McCarthey Athletic Center is photographed before an NCAA college basketball game between Gonzaga and BYU, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Young Kwak) (Young Kwak / AP Photo)
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