With the incredible impact of Covid-19, it’s pretty clear any athletic season that does take place is going to look very different. Here’s one idea I haven’t heard yet, and the more I think about it I can’t see what the downside is: Why not start the college basketball season with last year’s NCAA Tournament?
I read that the total financial blow to the NCAA for cancelling the tournament last year was over 930 million dollars. It’s been made pretty clear that the NCAA can’t go another year without that revenue. They have to play and NCAA Tournament this year in some form. No one is sure if we are going to get through a full season. So why not start the season with the 2020 NCAA Tournament? The one we didn’t get to have last March.
It may sound odd or unreasonable, but look at every league that has gotten back to competition. The NBA is in a $150 million bubble at Disney World playing in an empty gym. Golf is playing outdoors in front of zero fans. Major League Baseball is playing in empty stadiums, playing 7 inning games, and putting a runner on second base to start extra innings to get the games over with. They have also doubled the size of their playoffs. The bottom line is playing any sporting event is very different right now, with the goal being to find a way to play the games – and make the money.
The NCAA is talking about starting basketball after Thanksgiving when most schools have sent their students home, creating almost 8 weeks where just the athletes will be on campus. So if we are going to play, and that is the safest time for us to start playing, why not start with the games that really matter? Instead of trying to play regular season games or non-conference bubbles or whatever the alternatives are, play the most important games that have been lost to this virus. Have selection Sunday in November (Thanksgiving weekend?) and play the Tournament in December.
We were only a week away from the NCAA Tournament starting when everything got shutdown. I’m sure the NCAA kept their notes on who was going to make the tournament, who was on the bubble and who wasn’t. The field was pretty close to set. Will it be completely fair or 100% representative of the bracket that would have been put out in March? Maybe not. But in case you haven’t noticed, nothing is going to be normal or fair for the next 12 months at the very least. I just don’t see why, when we aren’t really sure if we can sustain a season for a long period of time, we would start with non-conference games that don’t really mean much and won’t create much revenue. We had an NCAA Tournament that was just about ready to go when we got shut down, so let’s start with that and see if we can make it work. What a great way to bring back college basketball, while taking a test drive on protocols to play basketball with some significant oversight.
So what do you do with the rosters? Obviously the teams are different right now, with many seniors and others having moved on. Well, why not bring them back? Let the seniors who got robbed of a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament come back and play. Start with the rosters of all the teams as they were on March 1st. If the seniors are still around and want to play – or want to come back and play – bring them back. Let them practice for a month with their old team and get ready to play in the NCAA Tournament. If they can’t come back and play, you can replace a player one for one with one of your newcomers to fill out your roster. It’s not a perfect representation for sure, but March 2020 is gone and in case you haven’t noticed things are going to be very different moving forward. So let’s adapt a bit.
Does that create a competitive disadvantage and change the roster make-up of certain teams? Sure does. Deal with it. It really isn’t that big of an issue. Is the champion of this tournament going to be the true 2020 NCAA champion? Maybe, maybe not. But again, who cares? Call it the NCAA Cup or the 2020 Invitational. The point being, if it doesn’t truly represent a standard NCAA championship, so be it. We’ve all had to deal with a lot of different challenges due to this global pandemic, surely we can handle Louisville adding a couple of good freshmen to their basketball team to play in a tournament for a month. 2020 is going to have an asterisk on it until the end of time. We all know that.
Start practice on November 1st and start the tournament in December. Anyone interested in sitting down to watch the Final Four over the Christmas holidays? If certain leagues want to do it, let them have play-in games or finish their conference tournament. For example, Vermont and Hartford were scheduled to play in the America East in March for an automatic bid before we got shut down. If the league wants, let them play that game to see who gets in. That’s fine. If a league hadn’t decided who was going to represent them in the tournament, let them figure out how to do it.
What about the teams who weren’t in the NCAA Tournament? Just let them get ready for their season. Remember, half the teams who play in the NCAA Tournament only play one game, and 75% only play two. You could lose in the first round, take the weekend off, and then go back to preparing for next season. If all goes well, everyone is going to be practicing at some point in November or December to get ready for this season. Some leagues have already declared their teams won’t play at all until January. So plan on starting the 2021 season in January after the holidays, when the NCAA Tournament is wrapped up. Everyone is practicing in December, but the teams that are in the NCAA Tournament can get an earlier start. There are details to be worked out for sure, but it’s certainly worth it to do just that.
You can also take some of the revenue and donate it to Covid-19 relief efforts. Find a way in challenging times to make a positive impact. Run ads during the games with websites that are taking donations. I’m sure plenty of people will be sitting at home watching the games, many with the ability to help. Raise some money to help those in need while we play the games.
The NCAA really needs the revenue from the NCAA Tournament, even if they can only recoup some of it. We are all unsure if basketball practice or a season can actually work over a long period of time. Once we start practices (if we get that far) we’ll all be in uncharted territory. We have no idea if this is going to work. So why start by trying to play non-conference games that are mostly insignificant and won’t help raise much revenue? With the NCAA’s involvement for the tournament games we can probably ensure testing and safety protocols better than we all can at our individual schools. And we can help some people in need while we are at it. Who loses here?
If we are going to come back to practice in November and try playing games in December anyway, why not play the 2020 NCAA Tournament? Sure, it would be different, but not much different than everything else we’ve had to adjust to over the last 6 months. I’m having a hard time coming up with reasons why this idea wouldn’t work. December Madness. Let’s do it.