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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga schedule in flux after ESPN pulls plug on Orlando tournaments

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 26, 2020

Gonzaga coach Mark Few looks on during a game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff on Nov. 9, 2019.  (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga coach Mark Few looks on during a game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff on Nov. 9, 2019. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

Take the eraser out, again, to Gonzaga’s basketball schedule.

The Zags face another significant revision after ESPN announced Monday it has scuttled plans to hold 10 network-operated tournaments in Orlando in late November and early December. Tournament organizers and more than two dozen schools scheduled to play in a bubble-like environment in Orlando couldn’t agree on COVID-19 safety measures.

Gonzaga was originally scheduled to play in the eight-team Orlando Invitational that included likely preseason top-15 Michigan State, but several teams chose to withdraw.

Gonzaga was then slotted into a four-team Orlando event, facing Auburn on Nov. 27 in the opener before meeting either Texas Tech or Houston on Nov. 29. That event has been scrubbed, but there is some optimism that Gonzaga’s matchup with Tennessee – originally scheduled for New York City but later moved to Dec. 2 in Orlando – could still happen at a different location.

“They definitely want to make that one happen, is what I’ve been told,” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said. “We knew things hadn’t been going well for a while (with COVID-19 cases rising nationally) and things heated up Friday quite a bit when we were hearing from people outside of our normal loop that everything might fold with the ESPN events.”

“The Gonzaga game is still on, Mark (Few, Gonzaga coach) and I talked about that and trying to play that game someway, somehow,” Volunteers coach Rick Barnes told reporters in Tennessee last week. “Again, honestly, that’s the best that I can tell you because that’s all I know right now.”

Gonzaga has lined up games with Baylor on Dec. 5 in Indianapolis and Iowa on Dec. 19 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Zags also have a home date scheduled with Tarleton State on Dec. 8 and they’re working on finalizing several more games at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Roth said GU’s coaching staff already was working on contingency plans prior to Monday’s announcement. Orlando tournament cancellations leave a bunch of top 50 programs looking for games.

“A lot of teams are affected by this and Mark has a great working relationship with the vast majority of those coaches,” Roth said. “Can we put some of those games together in a different location?”

CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein tweeted Monday night that Gonzaga and Auburn could be part of a four-team event in Fort Myers, Florida, with games on Nov. 25 and Nov. 27.

There were several sticking points that led to the Orlando tournaments being scrapped, according to The Athletic.

ESPN wanted to follow NCAA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on protocols that are stricter than those conferences intend to follow. ESPN also wanted to follow the measure requiring anyone with a positive test be retested after the person has been clear for 90 days.

There were also questions of how long someone with a positive test would be quarantined and the challenges of contact tracing within the team and opposing squads.

There has been discussion on social media about teams possibly moving toward conference-only scheduling, which would make it easier to have uniform COVID-19 protocols and could limit travel and potential virus exposure.

Roth is not a fan of that idea, pointing out that non-conference scheduling gives Gonzaga and WCC programs an opportunity to enhance their NCAA Tournament resumes.

“We (the WCC) are all-in on a full non-league schedule,” Roth said.

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