Updated: Oct 22, 2020
As possibilities seem to circulate daily for what the 2020-2021 college basketball season could look like, most programs and leagues are in wait-and-see mode. As of last week, only 14 programs had released their non-league schedules. By comparison, we saw an average of nearly 60 schedule releases at this point over the last six summers, according to @TheD1Docket.
With the Ivy League cancelling all sporting events for the fall semester, it seems the Atlantic 10 is already out eight games (GW vs. Brown, UMass vs. Harvard and at Yale, Fordham vs. Harvard, La Salle vs. Penn, Rhode Island vs. Brown, Saint Joseph's vs. Penn, and St. Bonaventure vs. Yale). Some have pondered the NCAA assigning non-conference games based on geographic location, while many believe this portion of the schedule could be wiped out completely, leaving only conference games to be played come January. It was reported recently that the Big East is considering playing conference-only games for the upcoming basketball season.
If the non-conference schedule is cancelled or pulled back due to Covid-19 concerns, you could see leagues which aren't already at 20-game slates expand to this number to make up for lost games overall. Adjustments based on location and travel will be heavily considered as well, which is the cornerstone of this proposal. This also assumes that no games will be played with fans in attendance this season, which seems to be the consensus at this point.
To begin, here's a look at how these slates, groups, and locations could play out:
The Atlantic 10 conference season would begin January 1 and conclude on March 6, as usual. However, games would only be played every other week (except a small slate of games February 6-10). These off-weeks would be essential for not only player recovery during weeks with three or four games, but also for academics, virus testing, and other assessments that will need to be made.
During these five "slates" of games, groups primarily consisting of three or four teams would play each other in one location. This would allow teams to eventually play anywhere from 16-18 games while only making between two and four road trips. During a season where cutting back on travel will be not only necessary, but critical, this plan would decrease both the number of road trips from nine to less than five, and cut the distance teams travel conference-wide by around 70 percent.
Here's a closer look at how much a plan like this could cut travel:
With each team hosting one of these groups, almost every team in the A10 would have three full, consecutive weeks of not leaving their campus. And because location was heavily considered while creating this plan, trips that teams do make are, for the most part, quite short when looking at a conference map.
Dayton, for example, would only make three trips to two cities (St. Louis and Fairfax), while playing 16 games and cutting their distance traveled by 70 percent compared with last season. VCU would need to make flights to St. Louis and Amherst, but that's a small price to pay, as the Rams would only need to leave Richmond twice to play 16 conference games. They would cut their distance traveled by about 60 percent from last season.
Saint Joseph's would only need to travel a measly 788 miles - to Pittsburgh and Fairfax - to play 16 games, compared to the 6,000+ miles they traveled to eight different cities last season (that's about 87% less!). Fordham, meanwhile, would need to make four road trips (Philadelphia, Kingston, Olean, Philadelphia), but the 1,000 or so miles would be an 84% cut off last year's distance.
These cuts in travel, both in the number of trips and distance (as many teams could bus to locations) would be a massive financial advantage to offset the cost of team lodging. According to St. Bonaventure's Sixth Man Club, the total cost of a charter flight trip was over $42,000 in 2018, with the flight alone costing $30,000. A bus trip cost, by comparison, was listed just below $12,000. While the Bonnies would likely fly to Dayton, New York City, and Philadelphia with this proposal, they could bus to Duquesne during a league schedule that would cut their travel distance by 65%, and their number of trips from ten (including Rochester) to just four.
This is par for the course throughout this plan, as the vast majority of teams could easily bus to one or more locations, leaving the number of flights necessary at just one or two per team.
The "additional games" slate, from February 24 to March 6, consists of match-ups needed for teams to complete a 20-game season. These games could be the responsibility of the league to schedule on an individual basis, based on the progress we make combating the virus as well as where the virus is prevalent. Depending on the standings, some of these games could also potentially be played in the Barclays Center on Wednesday during the conference tournament week (with eight teams making the tournament and playing Friday through Sunday). If the league sticks with 18 games rather than 20, teams would need to make up just one or two games during this slate, with La Salle having completed its season.
There is no perfect solution to this season, and with any new plan there will be drawbacks or criticisms.
Are weeks consisting of three or four games too much?
Physically, we have to remember that this plan probably assumes there is no non-league season or a limited one. Players will not have gone through the grind and travel that 13 games in November and December usually offer. Also, full weeks off in between these heavier weeks will assist in player recovery. It's already commonplace to play three games in a week or so, and even back-to-back or three games in three days during tournaments. With the on-and-off structure of this schedule, extremely limited travel, and coaches being mindful of minutes allocation, this can be a feasible plan.
Is a full week away from campus too long?
Another criticism could revolve around players being away from campus and academics for a week at a time. This plan includes slates 1 and 2 being played during what is commonly Winter Recess, so most teams would be completing eight games before their Spring semester classes even begin. Also, the additional games slate takes place during what is midterm break for most schools. That leaves slates 3-5 taking place when classes are in session, and 12 of the 14 teams either have a week off (Davidson) or host games at their campus during this stretch. This leaves just two full weeks off campus for 12 of the teams, with Duquesne and GW having three weeks away.
When compared with the nine road trips most teams have during a season, the total number of days away from campus while classes are in session would likely be about the same for this plan as normal. Additionally, we must remember that many schools could have an online/in-person hybrid this year, and any online deliverable such as Blackboard works well for uploading lectures, power points, assignments, and discussion boards among students and professors. Couple that with things like Zoom and WebEx meetings and lectures, as well as schools and professors being extra flexible during this crisis, and this outside-the-box plan could absolutely work.
Can multiple-team events (MTE's) work during COVID?
TBT provided an early blueprint for how events hosting more than two teams could work. Pro sports leagues will also begin under similar circumstances very soon, and in several months we will have much more information and data to make MTE's successful. Host teams would need to allocate practice and walk through times for their two or three visiting teams, and conference-wide testing would obviously need to be commonplace. A full week of team lodging would also be costly, but offset by the extremely limited amount of travel during the season.
Even if we make great strides against the virus over the next few months, this college basketball season will still be greatly altered. Conferences are surely in the process of formulating multiple plans of action during this fluid and uncertain summer. With the unfortunate reality of no fans in arenas, as well as limiting travel, a unique proposal like this could work well for conferences needing to complete a lot of games in limited locations.