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The cancellations, postponements, and team stops that have plagued NCAA basketball in recent weeks have prompted a new set of concerns. The development of the COVID-19 omicron strain has led the game’s stakeholders to address many of the same 2020-21 issues one year after the coronavirus pandemic generated the most unique season (and postseason) in recent history.
Will clubs and leagues be able to play a schedule that resembles a regular season? Will there be any conference tournaments? What are the ramifications if those responses are “no,” and what would that mean for the NCAA tournament in 2022, which was anticipated to go on as planned? Which leagues have experienced the biggest problems, and is there agreement among players on how to best go forward?
We looked at the greatest concerns for college basketball and the most important questions being posed as the game tries to restart in the next days and weeks as those questions continue to be addressed.
As a consequence of COVID-19 difficulties, which leagues and teams are now in limbo?
A quick glance at the daily college basketball schedule reveals which teams are now on the bench. COVID-19 has caused more than 70 shows to be paused thus far this season, according to those who follow such things. That number is also on the rise. No. 2 Duke had two games postponed last week; No. 4 Gonzaga is now on break; No. 5 UCLA hasn’t played since December 11, while No. 7 USC hasn’t played since December 19. Even No. 6 Kansas had games canceled last week due to COVID-19 concerns with its opponents, but the Jayhawks immediately rescheduled new games.
Every conference in the nation is striving to push through and play as many games as possible, despite the fact that things seem to be becoming more difficult with each passing week. When San Francisco’s game against Saint Mary’s was postponed over the weekend owing to COVID-19 issues inside the Gaels’ program, it was a first: every men’s and women’s basketball game planned for last weekend in the West Coast Conference was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. Of course, the WCC isn’t alone. The illness has taken its toll on the Atlantic 10, which saw four games postponed on Wednesday after having four games called off last weekend and five in one day last week. Only four teams in the MAAC were not on a COVID-19 halt at one time last week.
Despite the mounting case numbers, no league seems to be entirely halting or taking a pause. Even the Ivy League, which was one of the first to halt competition during the epidemic, was not considering a prolonged hiatus as soon as late December.
How much do we know about game rescheduling? Will leagues be allowed to play whole conference schedules?
At this pace, it’s unlikely that each conference will play all of its league games. Some Big East clubs have already played three games, while others have yet to play one. There are teams in the Pac-12 that have played four games and teams who have only played one game. The Atlantic 10 featured nine teams that hadn’t played a single league game as of Wednesday. Most leagues will not allow clubs to play three or four games in a single week, but given the prevalence of back-to-backs last season, it may be acceptable in the future months.
Last season, though, there was greater pressure to play a particular amount of games. The NCAA imposed a 13-game standard for tournament eligibility, which was tough to meet in a season that didn’t begin until November 25 and involved long layoffs when outbreaks affected teams. Teams are no longer need to sit out for weeks on end due to the quarantine period being lowered in half this season.
Andy Katz of NCAA.com stated last week that the selection committees will talk about game minimums later in January. He also said that Division I clubs had averaged 12 games every season this year.
What changes have leagues made to their forfeiture policies? What are the consequences? What about tournaments inside conferences?
In late December, each of the seven major conferences (Power 5 + Big East + AAC) changed their forfeiture regulations, making forfeits the absolute last choice. Six of the seven conferences met their minimum player and coach requirements, while the Big 12 met its requirements with six players and one coach. Only a few leagues have preserved forfeits as a viable option. Prior to Christmas, the Missouri Valley chose to keep its forfeiture policy, but a week later, it changed its mind and followed the rest of the sport’s lead.
In the first few weeks of the season, the Big East and Pac-12 both faced forfeiture concerns. When the Huskies couldn’t find a new date for their game versus UCLA, they became the first team in league play to forfeit a game. When Washington’s postponed game against Arizona was merely rescheduled until later in the season, it raised some questions. Due to a spate of forfeits, the Big East rankings had become practically absurd; for example, DePaul was 9-1 overall with a 0-2 conference record at one time.
While forfeits aren’t counted against overall records or NCAA tournament resumes, eliminating them from the schedule merely allows teams greater flexibility. It opens up additional choices for filling out a league schedule, which might be crucial when it comes to providing bubble clubs more chances to win big games. To take another example from the Big East: St. John’s is a squad that desperately needs big victories in conference play. If the Red Storm had maintained their forfeit victory against Seton Hall, they would have missed out on an opportunity to improve their league record. It certainly stops big favorites Loyola Chicago from collecting up two or three forfeit losses and placing them in a worse position for the conference tournament in prospective one-bid conferences like the Missouri Valley.
It would be surprising if any conference tournaments were fully canceled based on last year’s history. In 2021, every Division I conference except the Ivy League (which did not have a season) hosted a tournament. During those tournaments, high-profile teams like Duke and Kansas were forced to withdraw due to COVID-19 difficulties, but 31 leagues were able to award winners, and this was before widespread vaccination availability. Leagues are almost expected to go to great lengths to ensure that their tournaments go place in 2022.
In 2021, Scott Drew and Baylor won a single-city event with restricted spectator access. Getty Images/Andy Lyons
If at all, how is the NCAA planning to change the NCAA tournament in 2022?
The NCAA issued statements from Dan Gavitt, senior vice president of basketball, late last Wednesday, suggesting that no conversations about playing in a bubble like last year had taken place.
“At this time, we’re sticking to the typical structure, timetable, and numerous host locations for the NCAA basketball finals,” Gavitt said. “Despite the present obstacles in college basketball, the remedies to these concerns at this phase of the epidemic are likely to be much different from the drastic championship format adjustments we were forced to take last year.”
The NCAA conducted the whole men’s NCAA tournament in Indianapolis last year, with 66 games played in a variety of venues across the city. The women’s competition was held in San Antonio and the neighboring regions in a similar fashion. In November 2020, the NCAA initiated conversations with Indianapolis and revealed their intentions in early January 2021. We’ve already passed those dates on the calendar for this year, but the venue of the women’s tournament wasn’t disclosed until early February 2021, so there’s still time to act if required.
It’s unclear if the regulations governing replacement teams and forfeitures from last season will still be followed. The NCAA put the first teams left out of the NCAA tournament on standby in 2021 in case one of the initial 68 teams failed to clear and reach the bubble. Louisville was the first team to be knocked out of the First Four, and hence the first standby team.
After the Rams received numerous positive COVID-19 tests, VCU’s first-round game versus Oregon was deemed a no-contest in the 2021 NCAA tournament. However, since the incident occurred only hours before game time, Oregon was able to advance because there was no time to find a substitute squad.
Regarding the NCAA’s probable logistical conversations in the coming weeks, the NCAA sent the following statement to ESPN: “At least once a week, Dan Gavitt speaks with our committee chair and vice-chair (Southland Conference’s Tom Burnett and Bradley’s Chris Reynolds). The complete committee will meet in person for the first time in two weeks (during the NCAA Convention in Indianapolis) and then again in mid-February in Indianapolis. We have more conversations set with the whole committee, as well as combined calls with the women’s basketball committee, over the coming several weeks. If required, we might consider playoffs logistics at those sessions.”
What are college basketball coaches saying about the new COVID-19 issues?
In the middle of December, a lot of the talk among coaches and decision-makers was about testing processes and quarantine periods. Some speculated that collegiate basketball might follow the NFL and NBA in limiting testing of vaccinated, asymptomatic athletes and shortening quarantine periods. However, there is a significant distinction between college basketball and professional basketball: medical decisions for all 358 institutions are not made by a single individual or group.
Testing requirements are decided by schools and local health authorities. Some schools examined every player, vaccinated or not, while others just tested players who had symptoms. Some schools tested all players returning from the Christmas break, while others just tested the unvaccinated or those with symptoms.
It was clear that there was no agreement on how to continue.
“I don’t like the idea that the two teams are not tested the day before, the night before, as we did last year,” Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski stated in mid-December.
That same week, South Carolina’s Frank Martin stated his position, which is held by the majority of the sport’s players: “You should not get tested if you have been vaccinated and are asymptomatic. Why are we testing you if you’re asymptomatic? … With regulations in place prior to vaccination, I’m not sure how we’ll be able to play a season.”
However, the CDC’s decision on Dec. 27 to reduce the period spent in isolation for positive tests and quarantine for close contacts from 10 to 5 days has been hailed as a game-changer. The ACC rapidly responded by reducing the necessary 10-day isolation period for vaccinated persons to two negative tests at least 24 hours apart, or improved symptoms and one negative test at least seven days after the initial positive test. Similar suggestions were made by the Pac-12 and other conferences.
This might result in shorter breaks, fewer postponements, and less interruption of the conference season. Another step in the right direction is for whole teams to be boosted to guard against the omicron variety, as Kentucky and Purdue did and then publicly stated.
If you’re seeking for a sign of hope, consider the following: 16 of the 29 planned games were postponed or canceled on Tuesday, Dec. 28. Only nine of the 38 events were rescheduled or canceled on Tuesday, Jan. 4.
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