Brian Rauf | @brauf33 | 08/14/20
It has been a turbulent week across college sports.
On Monday, the Big Ten announced they would not play sports – including football – this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, the Pac-12 took it one step further, announcing that they would not play any sports for the remainder of the calendar year. On Thursday, the NCAA announced there will not be fall sports played (though it is worth noting that several conferences – namely the ACC, American, Big 12, and SEC – are trying to move forward with the college football season since the NCAA does not oversee the FBS ranks).
The questions surrounding the immediate future of college football are most pressing, but the Pac-12’s decision to postpone all sports until January 1 directly impacts the college basketball season. There are now two conferences (Ivy, Pac-12) that won’t play hoops until 2021, raising new concerns about the sport’s ability to begin on November 10th as scheduled.
NCAA Senior Vice President Dan Gavitt, who oversees men’s basketball, remains “very confident” that a season will be played, noting that they will adjust as needed.
As the NCAA works on the logistical aspect of getting teams back on the court, it remains to be seen if any players will opt against it.
This is something we’ve seen in other sports, but most notably in college football. Several stars chose to opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns about COVID-19 and potentially hurting their draft stock. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore, both projected first round picks, went this route before the Big Ten cancelled fall sports. Miami defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau, a projected top 10 pick, has opted out as well despite the ACC’s plans to play the season.
There is a fear among some in college basketball that the sport may experience similar opt outs, particularly in the Pac-12. Many of those schools are located in current COVID hot spots and those players already know they won’t play a full season.
I don’t expect this to be the case, however.
Along with COVID-19 and draft concerns, college football players also have to weigh the inherent risks of, well, playing football. Injuries – particularly serious ones – are much more likely in football than basketball when a player isn’t in full game shape, as is expected given the limited team activities.
We’ve also seen the exact opposite trend in college basketball – more players are returning to school than leaving. This was on full display in the weeks leading up to the deadline for early entrants to withdraw from the NBA Draft.
Illinois saw both Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn return to school with Dosunmu specifically citing COVID-19 for his decision. National Player of the Year favorite Luka Garza withdrew to play his senior season for Iowa. Baylor got Jared Butler and MaCio Teague back. Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert returned to Gonzaga. Alabama and Arkansas saw John Petty and Isaiah Joe, respectively, opt to return.
I could keep going, but you get the picture. More often than not, players chose to return to college than test the uncertainty of the NBA Draft. Those stars aren’t going to suddenly reverse their decision and miss an entire season.
The players most likely to opt out are top freshmen that are projected lottery picks or first round picks, yet they’ve already had opportunity to look elsewhere. The timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the country hard in March gave them time to reverse course and play professionally overseas or in the G League before being locked in to their new school.
We saw this when five-star prospect Jonathan Kuminga chose the guaranteed payday of the G League over college, a decision at least somewhat influence by the uncertainty of college sports. It also played a role in Filip Petrusev’s decision to leave Gonzaga for Bemax in his hometown in Serbia.
Essentially, those kinds of decisions have already been made.
College basketball also has the appeal of the NCAA Tournament, which Gavitt insists they will find a way to play no matter what. March Madness has often been a launching pad for a player’s draft stock, and I don’t think you’ll see players want to pass that opportunity up.
While other sports deal with the uncertainly of who will play along with when they will play, I don’t expect college basketball to be confronted with the same kind of dilemma.
Brian Rauf is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com. His content has been featured by Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and FanSided, among other publications. Rauf is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.