The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which annually puts on multi-team college basketball events, has sent a detailed pitch to numerous NCAA stakeholders and college basketball programs about how it plans to host at least 32 games for at least 16 teams in a bubble from Dec. 9-20, according to confidential documents obtained by CBS Sports.
Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, is where the still-unnamed event would take place. The Basketball Hall of Fame, based in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, has played its Tip-Off tournament at the resort and casino since 2011.
The Hall of Fame would operate the event with substantial assistance from Mohegan Sun. Frequent COVID-19 testing would be provided by Connecticut-based Hartford Healthcare. In addition to the two events run by the Hall of Fame — the Tip-Off Tournament and the Hall of Fame Invitational — sources told CBS Sports the Empire Classic, the Gotham Classic and the Legends Classic are also under consideration to move from their planned New York City-area tournaments up to Uncasville. Here are the 35 schools associated with each of those five events:
Empire: Baylor, Michigan, NC State, Villanova
Gotham: Green Bay, Jacksonville State, Iona, LSU, Mercer, Stony Brook, Syracuse
Legends: UConn, Eastern Washington, High Point, Liberty, Monmouth, Notre Dame, USC, Vanderbilt
Tip-Off: Albany, Lehigh, LIU, Marquette, Minnesota, Quinnipiac, Rhode Island, UCF
Invitational: Army, Florida, Georgia Tech, Penn State, Purdue, Siena, Stanford, West Virginia
A total number of teams for this event is yet to be determined, but 16 is the initial target. There is also the possibility of holding two separate bubble events to accommodate more teams, one source said. If that happened, the combined teams via the Empire, Gotham and Legends might link up with more MTE tournaments to accommodate a second major event. With ESPN also heavily exploring moving many of its annual November MTE events to Disney World in Orlando, another source said there remains ongoing discussions about if it it would make more sense for some teams to swap out of an ESPN event in order to play closer to home, in the Northeast, at Mohegan Sun.
The Basketball Hall of Fame’s initial pitch is thorough: an 18-page operations plan; a 13-page outline on basketball particulars and health protocols; and an attached scheduling format for a four-game round-robin that would allow each team participating to get four nonconference games in over the course of a 12-day trip.
“Upon arrival, all services are provided with no need to exit the property until the ‘bubble’ is completed,” the pitch reads.
Sixteen schools would be split into two pools of eight. According to the document, “Bracket A would play games on December 12, 14, 16 and 18. Bracket B would play December 13, 15, 17 and 19.” It’s not yet known which schools would be in which brackets.
The first three days would be for travel and arrival (Dec. 9), a testing day, a practice day before the games begin. The game schedule has tip-offs at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. — all times Eastern and “a national television partner would broadcast the event.”
Mohegan is an appealing bubble location not just for its pro-level basketball arena (it is home to the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun) and history in hosting college basketball events, but because it’s already gained experience hosting sporting events in the time of coronavirus: it’s been a bubble hub for boxing and mixed martial arts. According to the documents obtained by CBS Sports, the Basketball Hall of Fame at this point has determined “there will either be no fans admitted or a very limited capacity, using the upper level of the Arena. The property is open every day to guests so friends and family may attend Mohegan Sun and any interaction between friends and family are subject to review by each school.”
Mohegan Sun is secluded in the southeast part of Connecticut: it sits approximately one hour from both Providence’s and Hartford’s airports and has two hotel towers, approximately 1,600 rooms and more than enough social-distance-friendly meeting spaces and ballrooms for team practices.
In order to participate in the event, one protocol mandates everyone in a team travel party must produce a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving at the resort. Thermal scanning will be required for everyone to entire the premises, which also purportedly has “100% ultraviolet coverage” to help combat the coronavirus.
In its pitch, the Hall of Fame also lists these health and safety measures:
“Masks are required at all times by all participants and staff unless during game play or feeding times””All hotel rooms are fogged between each guest stay with electrostatic sanitizer used””Masks will be mandatory for all Mohegan Sun team members and guests of events””Plexiglas has been installed at all transaction points on property””Restaurants are operating under guidelines of State of CT and CDC””Arena production staff is tested weekly per protocol of Mohegan Sun prior to working any event in the Arena””Testing on property is available to any staff member with COVID-19 symptoms”
The memo also adds: “Testing will repeat with a rapid version of COVID-19 testing on each consecutive off day. Repeat morning testing will take place in the off day morning.”
For a 16-team event, a team should be expected to be tested four times. At this stage, the type of test the Hall of Fame is planning for is a deep-nose swab, referred to as “anterior nares detection.”
No one connected to the event — player, coach, team personnel, referees, etc. — would be permitted to leave Mohegan Sun property before their duties are done. Teams would have an entire hotel floor to themselves.
“No other guests to the property will be permitted on team floors for the duration of the stay,” the memo states.
The Hall of Fame also promises that Mohegan Sun will provide security to guide teams to and fro before and after games, allowing them to walk through private hallways and corridors and avoid the general public using the resort. The arena has seven locker rooms, which is ideal for holding an event with so many schools. There will also be practice courts assembled at the Mohegan Sun Expo Center, which is 170,000 square feet and would be sanitized before each practice session. (See below.)
Should anyone produce a positive COVID-19 test, “the person in question would immediately quarantine into a new hotel room, with exit travel planned and the Mohegan Sun contact tracing program will be put in motion.” The memo — which is not a final draft and is seeking feedback from schools and stakeholders — does not make mention of how the event would work around a team or multiple teams needing to forfeit due to an outbreak of the coronavirus.
Schools would pay $75,000 in order to participate; that cost would not include travel. Teams would be provided 15 rooms and receive three meals for as many as 25 people in a traveling party, plus a promise that any and all other costs tied to running the MTEs would fall on the Hall of Fame and/or Mohegan Sun. Schools would be responsible for all transportation to and from the property.
The initial plan indicates media will be allowed to be at the event to cover the games, though it does not specify a maximum capacity for the press. The media would be socially distant in the skybox level. Team benches would also be socially distanced with six feet between chairs, just as we’ve seen with the NBA and the WNBA in their respective bubbles.
“This plan is subject to change as we are closely following the CDC regulations and recommendations and will abide by these regulation [sic] and recommendations as needed,” one of the documents states.
The Basketball Hall of Fame’s plan comes at a time when movement is afoot behind the scenes in the sport. Event organizers across the country are trying to prepare for adjustments in advance of the Division I Council’s vote on Sept. 16 that could push college basketball’s start date to Nov. 25. One example: sources told CBS Sports that the Battle 4 Atlantis is preparing to move its tournament out of the Bahamas and is, at this point, looking at the Pentagon basketball facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as a preferred option.
With so many Division I schools anchored in the northeast, Mohegan Sun sets itself up as an ideal spot for college basketball’s great bubble experiment. Across the sport coaches are already wondering if these kind of bubbles for college basketball, if they can be pulled off with dozens of teams at the same spot at the same time, would comprise most of the nonconference slate for the 2020-21 season. If so, they would become precious, crucial opportunities for all schools. No official movements are expected to be made until after the Division I Council makes a decision on when to plan to start the season.