The 2020-21 college basketball season is a go as the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Division I Council voted on Sep. 16 for competition to begin on Nov. 25, a day before Thanksgiving.
The decision, as reported by CBS Sports, comes on the heels of an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) proposal and will have to contend with the uncertainty of the pandemic.
On Sep. 9, ESPN reported that ACC coaches had voted in favor of and presented the NCAA with an all-inclusive men’s basketball tournament, featuring all 357 Division I men’s basketball teams. The proposal sought to eliminate all non-conference games in an effort to protect teams from COVID-19, thereby allowing all Division I teams to qualify for March Madness.
ACC coaches viewed next year’s tournament as a necessity, from a financial perspective. In March, MarketWatch reported that 1,200 schools missed out on an NCAA distribution of roughly $375 million due to the tournament cancelation. The revenue from March Madness and conference tournaments would have been distributed to schools’ athletic departments, as well as other programs.
In an interview with ESPN Radio, Duke University Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the leader of the ACC’s proposal, stressed the financial importance of March Madness. He said, “We need to have the tournament; we can’t have it two years in a row, you don’t have the NCAA Tournament.”
On Sep.10, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt responded to the ACC’s movement and said, “While all who care about the game are entitled to their opinion, and we’ll always listen respectfully, at this time we are not working on any contingency plan that involves expanding the tournament field.”
Gavitt and the NCAA have been adamant about hosting their event in March and April of next year. Potential workarounds for the 2021 tournament include using replacement teams to continue the tournament if another team is eliminated due to a positive COVID-19 test and hosting next year’s tournament in a bubble-like setting.
In an interview with the NCAA website, NCAA President Mark Emmert stressed the expenses that come with housing 64 teams in a bubble. He also mentioned the cost-effectiveness that comes with inviting fewer schools to a bubble. “We’re not going to hold a championship in a way that puts student-athletes at risk,” Emmert said. “If we need to do a bubble model and that’s the only way we can do it, then we’ll figure it out.”
Though this season has been given the green light, the council’s decision comes with a few caveats.
Per NCAA rules, teams will have to wait until Oct. 15, 42 days prior to the scheduled start date, to begin their preseason activities. Scrimmages and exhibition games will not be allowed in the preseason. Student-athlete recruitment was also affected as the council will not allow in-person visits until Jan. 1.
The Division I council will meet again in mid-October to determine if any amendments need to be made to their decision.