The coronavirus ruined the last college basketball season by bringing about the cancellation of many conference tournaments and the showcase NCAA Tournament. It could potentially have an effect on whether the coming season will start according to schedule, Big East commissioner Val Ackerman explained during a Friday news conference on the Zoom platform.
Ackerman said that should the college football season be delayed, she envisions “a domino effect” that would push back the college basketball season. Specifically for the Big East, there also may be issues with scheduling venues because many schools play in NBA arenas and it remains unclear what the NBA will look like in the fall.
She also said that the conference is proceeding “as usual” and identified the first week of September as the critical time when decisions will have to be made about the upcoming college basketball season.
“Practices start mid-October, games start mid-November . . . we're going to proceed as if we're going on time, but I think you would probably be able to wait maybe until September 1-ish, maybe Labor Day [Sept. 7] . . . as when you might need to be able to know,” Ackerman said. “I do think it is worth noting that whatever happens in football – there's a delay for example – that will have a domino effect I suspect.”
Ackerman was asked about a stadium.com report saying that college football could be played by some schools that don’t return students to campus. She said that the Big East would not have sports if the students don’t return.
“If our campuses are not open, we will not have athletes coming back,” she said.
The Big East has teams in 10 states and the District of Columbia – with UConn returning this year – and the landscape for when and if campuses reopen could vary. Because of that, Ackerman said she expects schools and teams could return in a “staggered” fashion. She added, however, that the schools with open campuses would be competing in conference play even if it means running a season without the full complement of 11 teams.
A conference needs six teams in a sport to compete in Division I and she said “you’ve got to be ready for anything.”
Ackerman also said that the Big East is prepared to hold athletic events with either limited attendance or no spectators at all. The last game of the college season, a March 12 Big East quarterfinal between St. John’s and Creighton at the Garden that was halted at halftime, was played with restricted attendance.
“[It] wouldn't be the same. You’d sort of give up the fan atmosphere as well as the fan revenue,” she said. “But at least you could produce something that your followers on television could follow and appreciate and enjoy.”
There are several other matters that will need to be worked out for college athletics to restart in the fall semester, including procedures in a training room, how teams would travel and what the impact of anticipated declining enrollment will have on athletic department budgets. How well the nation battles the COVID-19 outbreak in the coming weeks and months will determine a lot.
"In the coming months we’ll get a better sense of where the virus is headed and what our options are going to be," Ackerman said.