To begin the month of August, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt turned heads when he told NCAA.com’s Andy Katz of NCAA.com that as long as basketball is being played safely anywhere in the world, they’ll find a way to play college basketball.
“As long as basketball is being played safely anywhere in the world this season, we’ll be playing NCAA college basketball as well, both regular season and certainly the tournament in 2021,” said Gavitt.
In a follow-up interview with Katz this week, Gavitt doubled down on the extreme confidence.
“We’ve been working on contingencies and studying what it is that makes the most sense for college basketball for months now,” said Gavitt. “Making sure we’re making informed and responsible decisions in a timely fashion, we remain very confident that we’re going to have a basketball season, albeit different, and maybe altered, if necessary. The virus, we don’t control, it controls us. Leading into March Madness, we’re very confident that’s going to happen. Different contingencies are being considered [to make that happen].”
In terms of the “how,” Gavitt noted that a “bubble-like” environment is a possibility, specifically when students are off campus in the winter months.
“During the month of late November and into December when most of our schools are in virtual learning environments and/or after exams during the traditional holiday break,” said Gavitt, ” that is potentially an opportunity to create regionalized and controlled environments in bubble-like scenarios for non-conference or conference games.”
This morning, Kentucky head coach John Calipari joined ESPN Radio’s new morning show, Keyshawn, J-Will & Zubin, to talk all things college basketball, where he specifically addressed the possibility of playing in a bubble.
While he doesn’t know if the season will start on time with the Champions Classic on November 10, he does know that the success of the NBA and WNBA bubbles in Florida – along with Kentucky’s own on-campus bubble in Lexington – are proving that it’s something to seriously consider moving forward.
“We don’t know right now, but I’m gonna tell you, players want to play and coaches want to coach,” said Calipari. “It’s August 18, my thing is we just have to keep moving slowly. The NBA and WNBA have given us a pathway. Let me just say, we have an ultimate bubble. We have the [Wildcat Coal] Lodge where our kids live, they have a single room and single bath. They have a cook in the building. There’s no one else in the building except them. Right across the street is our practice facility, no one in the building, no offices are being occupied. We have the ultimate bubble to keep our kids safe.
“But we are still moving slow, we’re still not doing body to body, I don’t feel comfortable enough yet. So everything we’re doing is five guys at a time, six guys at a time, with social distancing if we can. But there’s no body to body, no setting screens, no defense. I’m still a week or two away from that. But we all want to play, safely. This new saliva test, that changes things a little bit. Things are changing daily, so to move quickly, none of us know yet. But I do know these kids want to play and we want to coach, safely.”
Should we get to that point, Calipari says he would be interested in playing the Champions Classic in a bubble, with UK taking on all three event participants – Duke, Kansas, and Michigan State – round-robin style.
“With basketball, we’re talking 12 players, a party of 20. I think the bubble or a pod, it’s been shown to work now,” said Calipari. “Do you have multiple bubbles or pods? Do we go and play the Champions Classic in a bubble, without fans, and we play each other? We all play each other round-robin? We could walk away with three games [played].”
After knocking out three non-conference opponents in a single event, Calipari says that could pave way to similar bubble/pod events moving forward.
“Do we put in a bubble or a pod, let’s say Kentucky, Louisville, and Michigan State with three “bye games?” Detroit, where my son plays, Murray State, and East Tennessee State, and we play a round-robin so we get bye games where those teams really need that money. Can we do it that way?” Calipari asked. “Is the NCAA Tournament in a bubble? I know [NCAA SVP] Dan Gavitt right now is looking at all kind of different options. What I’m happy about is we’re doing it now, we’re not waiting until two months from now. No, we’re doing it now to figure it out.
“We now have multiple paths, the NBA and WNBA have both shown that we can do this.”