College basketball will be played. It’s a matter of when it will be played and how it will be played.
Some people are of the opinion that it will still be played with fans; others see a world that isn’t close to ready to put hundreds (and definitely not thousands) of people together in one place again. The reality is, unless you’re wearing a lab coat to work, you don’t have the slightest clue as to what’s ahead for the world. You may have gotten 52 likes on your latest Facebook opinion piece but you don’t know, I don’t know, nobody does.
So let’s leave the when to the good people that own a microscope and can name more than three squares on the periodic table. Us sports fans sitting at home without sports, we can predict, or even offer up suggestions for, the how.
One option is beginning the season in January and only playing the conference schedule. This is a real possibility in the NCAA’s possibility folder as it allows a little more time to wait things out while playing the entire back-half of the schedule as planned. (If the smart people say it’s okay.)
But what if students are back on campus for the fall semester and our path back to normalcy is clear? That’s a thing, right? Maybe? I don’t know. I slept through science. But for the sake of this conversation let’s say it’s a thing and college basketball does start on time, it would still need a modified schedule. I don’t think it takes a scientist to realize the London game seems highly unlikely at this point and it probably wouldn’t make sense for four universities to fuel up their team planes and book entire hotel floors to play the Champions or CBS Sports Classics in empty arenas.
So what goes in their place on the non-conference schedule?
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to introduce to you UK’s Bus Ride Non-Conference Schedule, a contingency plan that seems outlandish in writing, and might just work.
Hear me out:
— All teams across college basketball postpone their current non-conference schedules until the 2021-22 season and everyone plays a regional schedule in 2020-21 with no fans. (Limited fans if possible.)
— Teams travel by bus and the schools rotate their traveling, meaning Kentucky will go to some small venues.
— Throw the money out. Kentucky, you’re not paying teams to travel to you. Other teams, you’re not paying Kentucky to come to you. If the games are played in empty gyms, there’s no money to split. (The TV revenue divide is way over my head. We’re thinking this out in real time.)
— Spitballing here… 300 miles work for everyone? 250? 350? 200? I don’t get paid enough to figure out what’s best for all college basketball programs across all 50 states. Up to a four- or five-hour drive seems very reasonable. A lot of schools have been traveling long distances by bus forever; the rich can deal with it in a pandemic year.
Now for how it could look for Kentucky. I went ahead and made a hypothetical schedule just for fun. It’s not real so don’t go telling your cousin Randy to update his calendar.
That’s a million times better than the current schedule and it doesn’t scratch the surface of potential opponents. In my example you open the college basketball season with Louisville in place of the Champions Classic, and replace it with West Virginia on the back end before SEC play. We also get a revenge game in Evansville (a DeAndre Williams homecoming game?) and games all around the state to please everyone in the Bluegrass. Xavier and Cincinnati, you can finally get some too.
In the past there have been plenty of reasons to not play these local opponents, but in this scenario there is no money to fight over and no crowds to avoid. They’re just locations with 94 feet of hardwood and a couple of baskets within a reasonable driving distance for the visiting side, and the competition level is about the same.
Will the mere thought of this make-believe schedule make John Calipari vomit? Yes, for sure. He’d hate this. But what does it hurt to go to Murray if we’re only trying to get the games played? It’s a pandemic. Everything is a mess. We haven’t seen our families and friends in months. If college basketball is going to be thrown off its axis, give us something good to watch at home for a couple of months and then play it all out as planned after Christmas.