Basketball felt like an afterthought on Wednesday.
Big East coaches and players talked about their hopes and goals for the upcoming men’s basketball season. There was a preseason poll and individual all-conference honors. But it was secondary. Instead of jump shots, crossovers and dunks, testing, social distancing and quarantine were the most frequently used phrases.
At the forefront of the Big East’s media day was the novel coronavirus and how (if?) a college basketball season can be played in the middle of a pandemic that has shown no signs of slowing down, especially with the NCAA’s recommendation of a team-wide 14-day quarantine for a single positive test.
“There are going to be more challenges this season than any other season in the history of college basketball,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
The regular season is supposed to start on Nov. 25. The conference season is scheduled to begin on Dec. 11. Teams will be tested three times per week. Nevertheless, much remains uncertain due to the virus.
Seton Hall, for instance, recently lost two games when the Wooden Legacy Classic was canceled, one of many tournaments slated for the ESPN-organized bubble at Disney World that fell apart because teams couldn’t agree to testing and quarantine protocols. Now it doesn’t know who it will open the season against.
“It’s just a total s–t show,” coach Kevin Willard said, a phrase many coaches have used to describe scheduling during the current climate.
The virus has directly impacted the league already. Marquette is in the middle of a 14-day quarantine after one player tested positive. Villanova has previously shut down due to positive cases, and the Wildcats were down for three weeks. Once they returned, players suffered injuries due to inactivity during the quarantine.
That 14-day quarantine for an entire team due to one positive test has led to debate around the sport regarding whether it is too long. Big East commissioner Val Ackerman told The Post there is talk within the NCAA of lowering it to 10 days.
“It’s probably going to be almost impossible [to complete a season with a 14-day quarantine period],” Willard said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me. If we’re going to test so much, why aren’t we not using the tests to keep moving forward?”
For now, the Big East’s priority is normal travel, for teams to play at home while frequently testing and social distancing. It will leave fan attendance up to each school.
The league has discussed the possibility of bubbles, with every team at one site or two different regional sites, for later in the season. On Wednesday, it released a schedule of four-to-five games for each team in December, giving itself wiggle room for the remainder of the schedule to make alterations. The regional bubble plan, sources said, is the more likely of the two and league presidents aren’t opposed to going to a bubble if it is deemed necessary. But they favor small bursts, at the most a few weeks at a time, rather than anything resembling what the NBA did in Florida, with players cooped up for several months.
Going to a bubble, though, remains a last resort for the league.
It will depend on how the December schedule plays out and what the status of the virus is five or six weeks from now, Ackerman said. The Big East wants to have a decision in place by early December.
“There’s no doubt the bubble is the answer,” Wright said. “If you want to ensure that you’re going to get all your games in, the bubble’s the answer. All the medical experts will agree to that.”
But, Wright noted, you are dealing with students, not professionals. They can’t be forced to enter into a bubble, though most players on Wednesday said they wouldn’t have a problem doing so. The other issue is the financial side of it. It’s not just the 11 men’s teams. There are also the 11 women’s teams to consider.
“It’s an enormous undertaking,” Ackerman said. “It’s not the preference of our schools to have our athletes away from their campuses for a period of weeks.
“We want to make sure circumstances warrant making that pivot. Right now we’re not there.”
There remains much that is unknown, even with games scheduled to begin in less than a month. Basketball, for now, is far from the focus. Being able to merely play the games safely is the priority.
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