NCAA President Mark Emmert endorsed the idea of potentially using bubbles for NCAA championships – including basketball – in the first half of 2021, saying Thursday night that it is “perfectly viable in many sports.”
“It’s hard to start with 64 teams. 32, OK, maybe it’s a manageable number. Sixteen, definitely manageable. But you have to figure out those logistics,” Emmert said in an interview on the NCAAs website. “There are definitely ways to make it work.”
Emmert said Joni Comstock, NCAA’s senior vice president of championships, and Dan Gavitt, senior vice president of basketball, have worked with committees and conferences to find out the logistics and economics of how it would work in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we have to make a bubble model, and that’s the only way we can do it, then we’ll figure it out.”
Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari supported the concept, saying in Thursday’s edition of The Intersection on ESPN Radio that a “thoughtful” bubble concept is realistic for college basketball because of what the NBA and WNBA have accomplished. He said college basketball executives should “listen to science, listen to doctors,” but he believes the plan is already in place.
“What has happened to all of us in basketball is the NBA, and the WNBA has shown a path for us to have a season,” he said, referring to the bubbles these leagues use in Florida. “One thing each [college] campus seems to do say that there will be no people on campus after Thanksgiving, so it probably opens a door after Thanksgiving, as even though we do not have fans that there will be a safe campus based on your team going to be there by itself. “
He added that Kentucky has already created a bubble where players compete in their own training facility, train in their own weight room and live in a private dorm that has its own chef. This model can be translated across the country, Calipari said, because basketball basketball teams have fewer players than football programs.
Like Emmert, Calipari said that even if the NCAA tournament could unfold in a bubble, it would be difficult to have a traditional field of 68 teams.
“Instead of it being weeks on weeks long, it might be short. You lose, you’re out of the bubble. You go home,” he said.
While Emmert acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic would ultimately dictate the schedule for winter and spring sports, as well as the fall sports that were postponed until the spring, he said the preference would be to hold men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments as planned, beginning in March and ending in early April.
“Men’s and women’s basketball, we have to do what we have to do to support these athletes and these timelines,” said Emmert. “Of course we talk to our media partners pretty constantly now about what flexibility they would have and we would have. We would love nothing more than to keep the current dates constant, and that may well be possible … We are hopeful that we can do it, but we’re looking at alternatives. Moving backwards if we had to – where can we connect it? “
Emmert announced Thursday that there would be no declining NCAA championships due to the number of teams participating that fall below the 50% limit in each sport. But he was optimistic about having championships in 2021.
“This is mainly logistics and healthcare and media time. These are not insurmountable problems, ”he said. “They are difficult, but they are not invincible.”
Several college basketball officials have spoken to ESPN about the importance of the COVID-19 test in being able to have a basketball season for men and women, and Emmert discussed how he hopes for an improvement in this department by December and January.
“I’m actually pretty optimistic considering all the brain cancer and energy and frankly money being put into the test subject in the private sector as well as the public sector that we’re months away … from having much higher quality antigen testing – in terms of its reliability – much greater availability of these tests and at a cheaper price point, “he said.” And if we can get there when we move into the winter, we can perform much, much more tests we can do it often, we can do it daily in a perfect world and it revolves around 15 minutes instead of 15 days. “
Calipari felt confident the leaders of college basketball would be prepared to uncover a plan and avoid the chaos that persisted in the build-up to falling sports around the country.
“I think basketball will be a little different because it will be clear when it’s time for us,” he said. “I have not been to any of the football meetings to talk about it. … But I think it will be a little clearer for basketball. The thing for all of us is that there is a path.”
The 2020 NCAA Men’s Basketball Basketball Tournament was canceled on March 12, marking the first time since it began in 1939 that no men’s champion was crowned. It was the first time no women’s basketball champion was decided since 1982, when the NCAA tournament began in women’s basketball.
Information from ESPN’s Myron Medcalf was used in this report.