Scheduling a ‘complex chessboard’ now that college basketball has a start date

Season will begin the day before Thanksgiving

As of Thursday, 69 days remained until the return of college basketball. The NCAA voted Wednesday to delay the start of the season from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25, setting in motion what will be a busy fall for athletic directors, coaches and players.

“We’ve obviously been preparing for this scenario for a couple months,” Dayton AD Neil Sullivan said Thursday, “but it’s certainly going to take some time to sort out what I call the domino effects. For us, just on the face of it, 15 days is a relatively short delay, but it has a relatively significant impact on our schedule. That’s a five-game swing, including the ESPN tournament in Myrtle Beach. There’s a lot of dominoes in play. It’s been a busy week on the phone with the basketball staff and myself, and I’ve been on the phone for most of the day today as well.”

It’s a similar story for the Wright State Raiders, who like the Flyers are coming off a championship season.

“Today’s vote by the NCAA Division I Council is the starting point for planning," Wright State AD Bob Grant said in a statement Wednesday. "Now that the November 25 date has been determined, the Horizon League and others can begin crafting what the 2020-21 basketball seasons will look like. We’ll continue to move forward — always keeping the health and safety of our student-athletes as our main priority.”

The Dayton and Wright State men’s basketball teams combined for 54 victories last season, winning regular-season championships in the Atlantic 10 and Horizon League respectively. The women’s teams at both schools also had success. UD won the A-10 regular-season and tournament championships in coach Shauna Green’s fourth season, and the Wright State women finished 19-12. Still, many postseason dreams were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

When college basketball does return for Dayton, Wright State, the Miami RedHawks, the Ohio State Buckeyes and others, it will be a big deal in part because of how last season ended March 12. Now that teams have a date to look forward to, they can focus on what shape next season will take.

Dayton would have played five or six games before Nov. 25, including three games in the Myrtle Beach Invitational, which according to one report will now be played in Orlando on dates to be determined. Where on the calendar that tournament lands will affect how Dayton handles scheduling other games.

“That was scheduled to start on the 19th,” Sullivan said. “Can that move to Thanksgiving or later? What teams could still be in it? How does that all come together? That’s been discussed here for the last few weeks and certainly in earnest this week. It’s just too early to say how that will play out. It’s all on the table.”

Dayton’s first scheduled home game, at least for games that were announced publicly, is against Southern Methodist on Nov. 29. It also has scheduled home against Indiana State (Dec. 2) and Mississippi (Dec. 19). Dayton also has a road game scheduled at Nevada (Dec. 6) and a neutral-court game in Atlanta against Mississippi State (Dec. 12).

“Every game that’s moved has an impact on dates, has an impact on travel, has an impact on the academic calendar,” Sullivan said. “I think we’re going to try as best we can to maintain the principles we have. We want to play high-quality games to supplement our Atlantic 10 schedule. We’re really confident in the strength of our league this year, which I think is deep and talented with a lot of firepower returning. Every school is going through the same exercise right now, and then there’s going to be a big matchmaking exercise to see if games that are scheduled can hold or if games have to move. It’s a pretty complex chessboard."

In addition to announcing the start date for the season, the NCAA revealed teams can play as many as 27 regular-season games this season instead of 31 but also must play at least 13 to be eligible for the postseason.

The NCAA also recommended teams play a minimum of four non-conference games. That doesn’t sound like much but could be an issue for any teams affected by positive COVID-19 tests.

“We’ll see how it plays out, but non-conference games come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, right?” Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, told CBS Sports on Wednesday. “Ultimately, it’s up to the institution and conference to figure out what non-conference games make the most sense for each program. In some cases, we know those are (multi-team events) or high-level doubleheaders and standalone events or conference challenges. In other cases they’re great local rivalries that you get on a bus and go across town to play. I think every college basketball program has non-conference opponents that they can access. In this scenario, they may have to reschedule or reconsider some level of their schedule. But I think we believe that everybody has the opportunity — it’s how it can be reimagined.”

A word fans will hear often in the coming weeks in regard to scheduling is “bubble.” The NBA’s success with its bubble in Orlando, where teams still alive have been isolated for months, provides a blueprint for how teams can successfully navigate a season during the COVID-19 crisis. However, a college basketball bubble may not be anything close to what the NBA has done.

“I think it all depends on how you define bubble,” Sullivan said. “What we’ve seen for the NBA is a true lockdown bubble for an extended period of time. What we’re looking at more is like a controlled environment, whether that’s in UD Arena or in Atlanta with our game with Mississippi State.”

There’s a chance Dayton could host its own bubble, inviting teams to play in a controlled environment at UD Arena with access to COVID-19 testing and a hotel. Coach Anthony Grant brought up the possibility in an interview last week. Sullivan confirmed it’s a possibility.

“I’ve put UD Arena out there as an opportunity for a number of different things,” Sullivan said. “Again, it’s too early. If it was ever helpful and would work to do that in Dayton, we would certainly put ourselves out there for that.”

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