By KEVIN McNAMARA
Now we know it’s true. The Big East is, indeed, considering playing in a modified bubble sometime after Christmas.
Stu Jackson, the Big East’s executive associate commissioner for men’s basketball, appeared on the Ed Cooley radio show Wednesday and said the conference’s wish is for no bubble to be needed. In that scenario the traditional `travel model’ schedule would unfold.
However he noted that the league office will be closely watching how the first two to three weeks of the season unfold. There are currently more than 20 basketball programs that are either in quarantine or just emerging from one after a team member or coach tested positive for COVID-19. Marquette, Connecticut, Seton Hall and Villanova have all had to hit the pause button in their preseason workouts over the last two months.
“It’s not just one schedule, it’s multiple models of a schedule that we’ve worked on so we’re able to pivot to a different path, if needed,” Jackson said.
The Big East has scheduled 3-5 games per team in the month of December but hasn’t released any further schedule just yet. Jackson said the conference will own more information “after the first week of December,” and then explore its options.
He said talk is centering on two options. One is “starting the new year at a specific venue,” and the other is dividing the 11 programs into two venues. That clearly would split the league into six East Coast teams and five in the Midwest.
The NCAA has said teams need to play a minimum of 13 games in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Based on various outbreaks of the virus, travel restrictions and quarantine rules, teams are hoping to get a start on building their game inventory as quickly as possible with non-league contests and then see where they stand by the time Jan. 1 rolls around.
“We all just want to play, especially while we’re healthy,” one Division One head coach in the Northeast told KevinMcSports. “Who knows what the world will look like around here by Christmas. We’d like to have four or five games in by then, not zero.”
While college basketball cannot pull off a true bubble environment like the NBA enjoyed at Disney World, various alternatives are set to unfold once the season begins next Wednesday. The Mohegan Sun, for example, is hosting Bubbleville where dozens of teams (including the University of Rhode Island) will quarantine at the Mohegan’s main hotel and then play games at the Arena.
If Mohegan can safely pull off its 10-day Bubbleville, it would be an obvious candidate to host any type of Big East bubble. The hotel could host all 11 teams, or the six from the East: Providence, UConn, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova. The Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence has also expressed an interest in hosting a Big East bubble in early January, however the rise in coronavirus cases in Rhode Island in the last few weeks has put a damper on those plans.
Providence is set to play in a bubble environment when it travels to Asheville, N.C. for the Maui Invitational Nov. 30-Dec. 2. All games will be played at Harrah’s Cherokee Center.
Villanova opens its season at Mohegan against Boston College on Nov. 25. Wildcat coach Jay Wright said his team will travel on Monday the 23rd, get tested that night and quarantine in their Mohegan hotel rooms. They’ll play the Eagles Wednesday.
“You’re kind of nervous about everything,” said Wright. “I’m nervous every time we get our (test) results back. That said I would definitely think we are all more excited than ever before for a season to start.”
Wright said four Big East games scheduled before Christmas, his team needs to be ready quickly. He missed all summer and a 23-day quarantine and is trying to work up to speed.
“We could go into the Christmas break with 10 or 11 games,” Wright said., “I think when everyone gets to that goal of 13 games we’ll breathe a sigh of relief.”