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NCAA sets Nov. 25 as opening day for college basketball games, but for Gonzaga, others, still ‘lots to work through’

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 16, 2020

Gonzaga cheerleaders take the floor before a 2017 game at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga cheerleaders take the floor before a 2017 game at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)

The NCAA Division I Council provided some much-needed direction for the upcoming basketball season, setting Nov. 25 as the starting date for men’s and women’s games.

The council’s decision overrides the men’s and women’s oversight committees’ recommendation of Nov. 21 and moves opening day closer to Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 26).

The original starting date was Nov. 10. Pushing back season openers two-plus weeks means programs already discussing scheduling changes will have to figure out what to do with their first handful of games. Add into the equation the fact that roughly a dozen tournaments (known as multiteam events, MTEs) were scheduled to begin before Nov. 23.

Gonzaga had five games set up prior to Nov. 25. The Zags were scheduled to open the season against North Carolina Central on Nov. 10, visit Texas on Nov. 13 and face USC in the Phil Knight Invitational on Nov. 17 in Portland. Those were followed by home dates against North Florida (Nov. 20) and Cal State Bakersfield (Nov. 22).

Options seemingly include rescheduling one or more of those later on the nonconference calendar or moving them to next year’s schedule or beyond.

The Zags were scheduled to play in the Orlando (Florida) Invitational Nov. 26-29. It was reported earlier this week that Orlando is expected to host at least eight ESPN-operated tournament/events, including the Orlando Invitational and the Jimmy V Classic (Gonzaga vs. Tennessee, originally set for Dec. 8 at Madison Square Garden in New York City).

Gonzaga also had games scheduled versus Texas Tech (Dec. 19 in Phoenix), Arizona (Dec. 5 at the McCarthey Athletic Center) and Baylor (date and site unspecified) that could potentially be played in Orlando since all three will be participating in Orlando-based events. The Pac-12, however, would have to reverse its current stance of no games before the end of the calendar year. Gonzaga also was lined up to entertain Washington on Dec. 12.

The council’s decision to start on Nov. 25 stems from the fact that 76% of schools will have fewer students on campus since they will have completed the fall semester or gone to remote instruction after Thanksgiving, reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread. Gonzaga will move to online instruction following the holiday break.

“The new season start date near the Thanksgiving holiday provides the optimal opportunity to successfully launch the season,” NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said.

Nothing is set in stone during an ongoing global pandemic, but the council established several parameters:

  • Preseason practices begin Oct. 14 (maximum of 30 practices before first game).
  • Teams will be permitted to practice 12 hours per week (eight hours on court) from Monday through Oct. 13.
  • A maximum of 27 regular-season games, including an MTE. The max is normally 31. The minimum number of games is 13 (normally 26) to be considered for the NCAA Tournament.
  • Playing at least four nonconference contests.
  • No scrimmages or exhibitions.
  • Women’s teams can schedule 23 regular-season games and play in one MTE that includes up to four games, or 25 games without an MTE.

The council also approved athletes having a day off from practice or competition on Election Day (Nov. 3). Former Portland head coach Eric Reveno, now an assistant at Georgia Tech, was the driving force behind the proposal. Gonzaga’s Mark Few was one of the first coaches to support Reveno’s idea.

“The good news is we know more now, but there’s still lots of unanswered questions,” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said. “We know the start date and the number of games. So all the work coach Few has been doing for the last couple months of ‘what-if’ schedules will start to become clearer.

“Mark and his staff have done a great job of positioning GU for this – now we just need everything to come together. It will still take more time and a lot of talks with teams, TV and promoters, but it will come together.”

NCAA executives and college coaches have monitored the NBA’s and WNBA’s success with bubbles in south Florida and believe it’s possible to do something similar in smaller, controlled environments at various sites around the country.

Roth said mini pods or bubbles will probably be used but noted there is “lots to work through. Thanks to everyone for their patience and support through this and going forward.”

Now comes the tricky part: Keeping athletes healthy in campus and/or bubble environments, revising schedules, establishing testing procedures and determining how many fans, if any, will be permitted in arenas. Faktorsports.com, created by Michigan State associate athletic director Kevin Pauga, is offering scheduling assistance for coaches and administrators.

Teams and tournaments can request to play prior to Nov. 25, but NCAA committees are unlikely to support those waivers requests.

The NCAA is still planning for a 68-team NCAA Tournament over three weeks in March and early April. There has been speculation of a bubble-type environment possibly for the last week or two.

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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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