Five things to know about college basketball bubble progress

Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 08/28/20


A 2020-21 college basketball season is coming into focus.

It was a busy week towards season developments amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are five things you need to know.

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Start dates are coming into focus

CBS Sports on Thursday reported that four dates have come into focus for college basketball’s opening day: Nov. 10, Nov. 20, Nov. 25 and Dec. 4. The first day of practice for those proposed dates would be Sept. 29, Oct. 9, Oct. 14 and Oct. 24, respectively.

The preferred start dates, according to the report, are Nov. 25 and Dec. 4. A vote on the season’s start date as well as several other logistics is expected to take place on Sept. 16 by the D-I council. Additionally, the NCAA is also planning to meet with the D-I council on Oct. 13 and/or 14 to make any necessary tweaks to the Sept. 16 decisions.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee is also included in these discussions regarding start dates, medical developments, bracketing adjustments and other topics. Women’s college basketball is following a similar timeline.

Testing remains biggest obstacle

Stadium’s Jeff Goodman polled more than 250 Division-I athletic directors this week about their optimism and concerns about the upcoming college basketball season.

Some key takeaways:

  • 96.5 percent of ADs are either “very confident” or “somewhat confident” in any form of a college basketball season
  • 97.3 percent of ADs are either “very confident” or “somewhat confident” in an NCAA Tournament
  • 63.2 percent of ADs favor a “bubble” for games
  • 48.1 percent of ADs believe the biggest obstacle is testing
  • 55.4 percent of ADs prefer starting the season before January

The obstacle poll is especially noteworthy. As noted above, the 48.1 percent of ADs believing testing is the biggest obstacle is more than double any other factor. Liability (17.4 percent), no bubble (17.1 percent) and “other” (10.1 percent) pale in comparison.

Good news is on the way, though. The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized the first rapid COVID-19 test that doesn’t require special computer equipment and minimizes turnaround time. Abbott Laboratories’ credit-card-sized test will sell for $5 with results delivered within 15 minutes. It is widely considered a major advancement in detecting COVID-19.

Bubble locations are developing

Several locations are emerging as bubble sites for the upcoming season. CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reported Friday that the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. could host up to five multi-team events if the season is delayed. Those events include the Empire Classic, Gotham Classic, Legends Classic, Hall of Fame Tipoff and Hall of Fame Invitational.

Florida could also host a bubble. Disney’s Orlando campus has succeeded for the NBA and ESPN’s tie-ins with both Disney and college basketball’s multi-team events provide a natural fit. Another possible solution could be the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where the WNBA currently hosts its bubble.

Elsewhere, Houston and Omaha, Neb. are also worth consideration.

Rhossi Carron, a Houston-based college sports event organizer, delivered a proposal to more than 80 teams about a nonconference bubble. The bubble would include 20 teams playing eight nonconference games and a scrimmage in Houston between Dec. 1 and Dec. 21.

As for Omaha, Big East commissioner Bruce Rasmussen said that a conference bubble could take place given Creighton’s CHI Health Center and several low-cost hotel options nearby.

March Madness optimism is high

NCAA leaders remain optimistic about a 2021 NCAA Tournament. “We remain very confident that we will have a college basketball season, albeit different, and maybe altered as necessary,” NCAA Sr. VP Dan Gavitt said earlier this month in an interview with NCAA.com’s Andy Katz.

Gavitt said that the NCAA continues to weigh different options for the upcoming season.

“We’re going to end up, I’m sure, with about four or five contingencies,” Gavitt said. “Our best hope is that we have the tournament as scheduled and with some fans in attendance and have 68 teams and crown a national champion in that way.”

College basketball is in much better hands than football

If nothing else, college basketball’s proactive approach shines positive light on the sport. Gavitt’s efforts will help avoid the “pitfalls of college football,” as CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander tweeted on Aug. 17. Significant planning developments more than two months before the season’s proposed start date will only help the process.

Though basketball’s return to play is widely considered to be easier than football’s — a football bubble, for example, would be next to impossible to conduct — the differences in leadership are staggering.

Over on the gridiron, confusion and miscommunication have all but destroyed any hopes of a “normal” college football season. Months of the wait-and-see approach struck midnight earlier this month with the Big Ten, Pac-12, MAC and Mountain West pulling out of 2020 competition completely. The ACC, SEC, Big 12, American, Sun Belt and Conference USA, meanwhile, aim to press on.

Lacking communication and planning among the conference football leaders have generated laughable headlines of disorganization. On Friday, reports surfaced that the Big Ten is considering a November start after initially banking on a spring football season. It is yet another page in the ever-growing book of COVID-19-related football leadership fumbles.


Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.

Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.