The moment COVID-19 shut down athletics everywhere, college basketball had a luxury no other sport could claim.
The benefit of time.
The season’s usual start date was eight months away from the March 12 shuttering. The country had all that time to learn about the virus, attempt to ward it off or figure out how to co-exist with it. College football and professional leagues were tasked with getting their seasons off the ground first. Basketball could watch and learn.
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College basketball games can begin on Nov. 25. (USA TODAY Sports)
The pandemic is decidedly not warded off, but other sports have managed successful returns and seasons thus far. The college basketball narrative turned from the viability of a season to how to do it as safely as possible. And Thursday, they officially set the starting line.
The NCAA Division I Council approved a Nov. 25 start to the season, 15 days later than its original opening date. By that date, about 75 percent of all Division I basketball institutions will have completed their fall terms. Preseason practices can begin Oct. 14, with up to 20 hours per week of activity. From Sept. 21 to Oct. 13, teams will be allowed to conduct 12 hours per week of strength training, team meetings and skill work.
Those decisions are several of, well, a lot more needed to actually start playing.
There are testing guidelines and gameday protocols left to make, though the availability of rapid testing makes the idea of playing a close-contact sport in an indoor space outside of a bubble seem easier to pull off.
Scheduling is the next unknown. At this time last year, Notre Dame had released its full schedule. before the start date announcement, only 20 Division I men’s teams had released non-conference slates. Notre Dame was not among them, though most of its games or events were known. Matchups were never announced for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge typically held in late November.
No currently scheduled non-conference games should be viewed as locks to be played, but nonetheless, Notre Dame has five non-conference games scheduled before Nov. 25:
-Nov. 10 vs. Army
-Nov. 17 vs. Eastern Washington
-Nov. 20 vs. Liberty
-Nov. 23-24 Legends Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y. (two games)
As part of setting a start date, the NCAA also released revised rules for number of games. Most notably, the maximum number of regular-season games was reduced from 31.
Teams can schedule up to 24 games and participate in a multi-team tournament (such as the Maui Invitational) that includes up to three games for a maximum of 27. Teams in a tournament with two games (like the Legends Classic) can schedule up to 25 games. The maximum for teams not in a tournament is 25. The minimum number of games for NCAA tournament eligibility is 13.
Women’s basketball teams can schedule up to 23 games in addition to one multi-team tournament with up to four games or 25 games with no tournament.
The ACC had not previously announced conference schedules and has not released a statement on the news.
Notre Dame’s other known non-conference games or events are Dec. 12 vs. Kentucky, Dec. 19 against Purdue in the Crossroads Classic, Jan. 18 at Howard and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. All told, it had nine publicly known non-conference commitments, which is now too many under the new maximum assuming the ACC sticks to its 20-game conference schedule.
Earlier in September, a CBS Sports.com report said the Legends Classic is one event under consideration to be merged into a possible bubble event in December with several other multi-team tournaments normally held in New York and New England. If it happens, it would be held at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
This story will be updated.