By the end of the week, we should have some idea when the 2020-21 college basketball season will start. We already own a high degree of certainty that it will be anything but a typical winter for the players and coaches involved.
There figures to be fewer games played. There might not be much of a non-conference season, possibly as few as four games per team. There is no assurance that the NCAA Tournament will be played in its entirety. And, of course, the experience of playing in sold-out gymnasiums and arenas will become a thing of the past (and, one hopes, the near future).
This ought not to be what anyone who plays Division I basketball should remember as his or her final season. And it does not have to be. Already, the NCAA membership has approved an additional year of eligibility for spring-sport athletes who had their 2020 seasons wiped away after little or no competition, and for fall-sport athletes who’ve had their 2020 seasons delayed or truncated.
It is time for the NCAA membership to offer the same deal to athletes in those sports that span both fall and spring semesters, including men’s and women’s basketball.
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This idea recently was discussed within the NABC Congress — each conference in each NCAA division is represented on this panel of the National Association of Basketball Coaches — and met with positive reinforcement among several members. They are concerned about how to effectively conduct their seasons during a continuing pandemic as well as how the experience for their athletes will be compromised.
College basketball players were among the first to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their athletic experiences. Some whose teams already had clinched NCAA Tournament berths with conference tournament titles — players from Utah State, Robert Morris and Northern Kentucky, for instance — learned that those championships would end their seasons. Others awaiting the start or continuation of conference tournaments saw them canceled abruptly.
We don’t know all of the 68 teams that would have comprised the field for the 2020 NCAAs, but we know for sure that nearly 1,000 athletes would have been involved. And as many as 2,700 had the opportunity to challenge for that experience eliminated.
It is obvious that this was the proper course of action, but athletes in two-semester sports — or winter sports, if one prefers — may be the only group that will have had two seasons impacted by the pandemic and still are the only college athletes yet to receive what amounts to a do-over from the NCAA.
Those coaches who support granting winter-sport athletes an extra year of eligibility are partly concerned about how to ideally maneuver through a season in which the virus figures to remain a constant threat. Those who make a practice of redshirting some athletes will be hesitant to follow that course because of the possibility that a positive test or two will leave them short-handed for a game or games. Even those who don’t will encounter the risk of being short-handed.
“In an unprecedented year, we’re looking to try to come up with things that are good for our student-athletes and our programs,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff told Sports Grind Entertainment. “This is something that could be good for everyone in college basketball.”
Coaches would appreciate getting word on this concept soon because it would aid with planning for the season as well as recruiting.
This might cause some complications for current high school seniors, but the NCAA’s first priority ought to be current athletes.
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Many colleges did not offer summer school programs for their athletes, as they typically would, either to save money or to avoid the complication of having them on campus with the pandemic nowhere near exhaustion. As a result, offering the extra year also could help to assure that more complete their degree requirements.
There would be no requirement that schools participate in offering the extra year of eligibility to their athletes. Wisconsin was one university that chose not to allow spring-sport athletes whose eligibility was expiring to return for an additional year, and there has been no decision announced yet on whether the Badgers will take the same approach with fall-sport athletes.
Those that are interested in participating, though, should be providing their basketball players the same benefit football and baseball players received. This coming season will be better than nothing, but not what anyone has grown to expect from college hoops. Its athletes deserve the same special treatment presented to their classmates.