As college football’s dominos begin to shiver, one of the most powerful men in college basketball remains hopeful and confident that the 2020-21 hoops season can start as scheduled Nov. 10.
There is also this vow from NCAA VP of Basketball Dan Gavitt, who told CBS Sports on Thursday night: “First and foremost, we’re only going to do anything that’s safe, and so we know that we don’t control the virus, the virus controls us. But if there’s basketball being played anywhere safely in 2021, we will have March Madness.”
Gavitt’s words come as a blast of hopeful confidence, which is no huge surprise given college basketball is still four months out from its scheduled reopening. Whereas the sport was the most devastated by the initial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic (the NCAA Tournament was canceled three days before Selection Sunday), now college basketball gets the benefit of the most time before needing to make a decision on resuming play.
Despite this week’s news regarding the Ivy League shutting off all organized sports in the fall semester and the Big Ten announcing it would only play intra-conference games in football, Gavitt said those early ominous scheduling moves have no profound impact on college basketball.
“Right now, the hope and plan still is to start the season on time in November,” Gavitt said. “Some decisions around football in the fall have to be made soon, and they’re starting to make them now because you’re only two months away from the opening weekend of college football. … I think everybody’s trying to exercise a level of patience, not to make decisions too early because things change so much week to week and month to month. So I do think that there will be discussion and consideration around (basketball scheduling) alternatives and contingencies in the coming weeks, but it’s premature I think right now to comment on that.”
Gavitt spoke to CBS Sports shortly after the conclusion of the NCAA men’s basketball committee’s annual early July summit, which was forced to be virtual for the first time in its history. The committee’s 10 members spent much of their time this week informally discussing hypotheticals and asking questions about how to prepare and adjust for a season that could inevitably be met with fits and starts. The 2020-21 campaign could easily be knocked off its hinges by delays and forfeits, which could lead to teams across the country having different game totals — if there can be a season at all.
Gavitt said college basketball and the commissioners of its 32 leagues have flexibilities built in that should implore optimism, even if the coronavirus ultimately causes postponements.
“I believe personally that college basketball is as nimble and flexible as any sport in college athletics,” Gavitt said. “I think that’s credit to the coaches and the players, the size of the squads, the number of games that are played and so on. Faced with any scenario and adversity, I think the game can adapt.”
Gavitt had curiosities in June about giving the 2020-21 season more bandwidth, but that idea is now off the table. Sports Illustrated spoke with Gavitt this week and questioned him about the potential to start the season in October in an effort to afford more rescheduling wiggle room. But Gavitt pushed off that possibility Thursday night, citing the inflamed coronavirus situation across the country: more than half the states in the U.S. are seeing case counts rapidly rise.
“I don’t see any support for that, and I don’t see any utility in it as much anymore as we did a month ago,” he said.
Still, part of the reason Gavitt spoke with CBS Sports and other outlets Thursday night was to get some focus and conversation on college basketball. The consideration and discussions on scheduling malleability need to take place over the next month or so, he said. Trying to forecast what the landscape of sports scheduling will look like in March 2021 is a fool’s errand, but Gavitt did point to one potentially crucial advantage for the NCAA: the Final Four in 2021 is scheduled to be played in Indianapolis, where the NCAA is headquartered.
“Our confidence about doing that safely for the players, coaches, fans and media is high,” Gavitt said. “The contingencies we’ve talked about so far are really around what everybody’s having to consider. Obviously practicing social distancing, reduce capacity in the venues, even safety considerations around the court, in locker rooms and all the things that we’re going to have to do in a very detailed way — testing for sure. Even with hotels and team travel and all those kinds of things.”
Gavitt said he’s spoken with event operators, television executives, coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners consistently in recent months. If there is any possible way to put on an NCAA Tournament in a manner that complies with health guidelines and does not put players or coaches at risk, the NCAA will go to any measure to pull it off. The selection committee is also amending its protocols, scheduling to meet minimally once a month going forward, whereas a normal year wouldn’t prompt another meeting until the mid-to-late fall.
There are other things to consider, such as how teams would be evaluated and how automatic bids could be handed out in the event we get a season only consistent of intra-conference games or other gaps that make for a unique tournament selection scenario.
“[We’re going to] develop every possible scenario and try to have answers that we can share with the membership and media as things evolve, but we don’t have specific answers to those questions right now,” Gavitt said.
From his perspective, Gavitt thinks college administrators have more optimism than skepticism about college basketball’s season at this point. That runs in some contrast to what a few coaches shared with CBS Sports in recent days. One coach told me his confidence is near 0% that a season will be played.
Gavitt is practical and hopeful.
“We’re only four months removed from when the tournament was canceled,” Gavitt said. “Think about all we’ve learned since then. I think there will be due consideration to anything that’s necessitated by the virus — again because it controls us, we don’t control it — but there’s time and there’s a lot of learning that can be done from others that are trying to get restarted right now. And we’ll make better decisions, I think, by exercising that patience and making sure we learn from others.”