NCAA Should Scrap Non-Conference Schedules for College Basketball This Season

    Make the smart call, NCAA.

    November 12, 2020

    One mid-major college basketball program has been shut down 52 days since mid-July due to coronavirus-related issues.

    Another school practiced six times after a 14-day quarantine before being hit with another 14-day isolation because of a second player testing positive for COVID-19.

    A different program was shut down for 14 days this week after one player tested positive and his roommates were contact-traced.

    It’s going to be difficult enough to play a conference schedule, never mind trying to figure out a non-league slate in which everyone’s COVID rules and protocols aren’t consistent. And we haven’t even really thought about the referees bouncing from game to game and league to league.

    The NCAA needs to see the writing on the wall, have some foresight and act intelligently. Want a visual? Just take a quick glance at four SEC football games being postponed this weekend. If the Alabama-LSU game isn’t happening, how the hell will ASUN and SWAC men’s basketball pull off non-league contests?

    Scrap the non-conference schedule now, Dan Gavitt and the NCAA. Pretty please.

    We can still start the college basketball season in a couple weeks, but this would allow conferences to have more time to try and play a full league slate. You’d have four months to try and get in as many league games as you can — up to 25.

    Of 125 D-1 head basketball coaches polled, 30 percent told Stadium that they have already — or are currently — shut down for at least 14 days. Seven programs have been shut down twice.

    “It’s irresponsible,” one high-major head coach told me about the current approach. “But people only care about money.”

    Another high-major head coach told me that a mid-December start would allow players to go home for Thanksgiving and spend time with their families.

    “Let them go home since they can’t go home for Christmas,” he said. “I worry about the mental health of these kids.”

    The start of the regular season is less than two weeks away, and only about one-third of the schools have finished their schedules. I spoke to one of the best officials in the country on Thursday, and he doesn’t have a single game assigned yet.

    Even ESPN scrapped its plans for the multi-team events down in Orlando because of the protocol inconsistencies across leagues and schools. Stetson already had to postpone its season-opener against Miami. New Iona coach Rick Pitino will have to do the same after his program halted everything on Thursday following a positive test.

    Don’t get greedy. Let’s just hope and pray for a 20-game league schedule this season followed by an NCAA Tournament.

    It’s not going to be fair and equitable, but these kids need a season.

    And don’t ask me, “How can the NCAA Selection Committee fairly choose a 68-team field?”

    One idea would be to use historical data to pre-determine the number of bids, and even the seeding, for each conference. This approach, which takes into account the number of bids from 2015-19, has been floated by Matt Dover and Colton Houston of HD Intelligence to several athletic directors and the NCAA.

    Here are the proposed bids by league:

    ACC: 7
    Big Ten: 7
    Big 12: 6
    Big East: 6
    SEC: 6
    Pac-12: 4
    AAC: 3
    A-10: 3
    MW: 2
    WCC: 2
    Other 22 conferences: 1 apiece

    The other change I might make is to give the six high-major leagues one fewer automatic bid, and give the NCAA Selection Committee the freedom to utilize those as wild cards.

    For example, they could still elect to give the ACC seven bids, but they’d also be able to give a league like the SoCon a pair of spots if, say, UNCG and Furman were both dominant. These leagues obviously won’t have the same non-conference opportunities to be able to build a resume with any wins over high-majors.

    You can disagree with the system to rate equality for an NCAA Tournament bid all you want. Let’s just get to the point in the season where we can have those bubble discussions, and that means cutting down on the potential issues.

    Thus far, the vast majority of the low- and mid-major leagues have opted to go with a league schedule in which they will play back-to-back days at the same site against the same opponent, which cuts down on travel. The Mountain West went to that model this past week, with the only alteration being that there will be a one-day break between games.

    No, it’s not equitable, but as Gavitt told me months ago, nothing will be equitable this season.

    It means everyone has to get in a handful of road trips in order to complete a 20-game league schedule. If you want to play more conference games, have at it. And the leagues can figure out the seeding process to determine a league champion, or whether they will go forward with a conference tournament. The Big South has already decided to go with a system that weighs victories 75 percent and games played 25 percent, so a team that goes 15-4 would be seeded higher than one that finishes 10-0.

    Again, you can argue with the plans for seeding conference tournaments, and complain about teams being left out of the field of 68 this season. Let’s just get to the point where we can have those conversations — and the best way for that to happen is to have conference-only schedules.

    MORE: Sources: Wichita State, Gregg Marshall to Part Ways

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