When it comes to college basketball, the month of March has always been associated with madness.
But at this point, we’ve all gone mad.
Instead of madness being used to describe the month that hosts the game’s most prized possession, we might as well get used to using the term to describe the 2020-2021 season that starts this week. With the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament, casual fans have all but forgotten about the sport.
Can you blame them?
It’s been 20 months since they’ve filled out a bracket. The Virginia Cavaliers are still the reigning champs, and they won that title on Monday, April 8, 2019.
But to fully understand just how much madness will ensue this season, you’ll have to realize that Rick Pitino, of all people, seems to be the only one with some type of plan.
Pitino once committed adultery with a former member of his staff, ran a program where prostitutes were hired to have sex parties with players and recruits, was the face of the FBI’s investigation into the sport, and once told the media that “we need to get shoe companies out of their lives,” while pocketing 98% of the money Adidas was giving his program. That guy now coming off like a just leader is… madness.
As the coronavirus spreads at a faster rate than we’ve ever seen, you would think that the NCAA would have come up with some type of blueprint, given that no sport has been affected as much as college basketball.
“There is no regular season,” Coach K said a month ago. “From the very start, this was not looked at as a time that we are in a pandemic and there is not going to be a regular season, not like what we’ve had. The NCAA got a starting date and they got an end date. Nothing against them. That’s the main thing they’re concerned about, then it really goes to the conferences to figure it all out. ... We’re going to have March Madness. We don’t know how teams will get in. We don’t know a lot of things but we know we’re going to have a regular season. We just don’t know much about both. That’s a helluva way to run a railroad.”
Duke was supposed to start their season on Wednesday, but that game has been postponed due to their opponent, Gardner-Webb, having COVID issues. Programs like Syracuse, Baylor, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Michigan State, and the UConn’s women’s team have either had practices shut down, games canceled or postponed, or positive test results for players and head coaches.
Last month, I wrote about how basketball on the collegiate and pro level has no plan for playing in a pandemic without a bubble. In October, ESPN announced that they were scrapping plans for a college hoops bubble in Orlando that would have featured eight preseason events, headlined by The Champions Classic. The games annually serve as the de facto kickoff event for the sport, as this year’s version will feature matchups between Michigan State/Duke and Kansas/Kentucky. Duke will host the Spartans at Cameron Indoor Stadium, while the Wildcats and Jayhawks will play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. There won’t be fans for either game.
And the bubble that was created is already having problems. An event called “Bubbleville” is trying to host 40 teams at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., for 11 days of non-conference games and tournaments and is already dealing with dropouts.
So if 40 teams are having trouble playing one area for less than two weeks, then why does the NCAA think they can host the entire 20211 NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis next year?
On what planet does having a postseason bubble in one city after over 300 teams have traveled back-and-forth across the country for months sound like a solid plan?
It doesn’t. But it does make more sense when you realize how many millions are involved.
The NCAA lost $375 million when it canceled the NCAA tournament. The annual event provides 98 percent of the NCAA’s yearly revenue. The NCAA also gets close to $875 million from TV and marketing rights for the tournament.
In the same way that the NFL, NBA, and college football have found ways to play in a pandemic because too much money was at stake not to, college basketball has decided to fall in line. It led to the creation of the College Basketball Parents Association, which is made up of some of the parents of the best men’s and women’s college hoops players. They plan to have a voice in the conversations around COVID-19 and the developments around players making money off their name, image, and likeness.
Over 120 games are scheduled to take place on Wednesday, and that’s just the men’s side on the Division I level. By Tuesday afternoon, at least 20 of them had already been postponed or canceled.
Things aren’t getting better and they won’t anytime soon. This is why I’m about to say something I never thought possible:
College basketball needs to listen to Rick Pitino.