Horizon League

Commissioner LeCrone says a normal conference schedule is “probably out the window”

With the Horizon League joining other conferences across the country in cancelling the fall sports seasons, it remains to be seen what decisions will be made regarding the men’s basketball season.

The first official day of practice is only a month away with games set to begin on November 10th, including Green Bay traveling to Oklahoma State for its season opener, but it remains to be seen if those dates will still hold true a few weeks from now.

Earlier this month the NCAA’s Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said “by mid-September, we will provide direction about whether the season and practice start on time or a short-term delay is necessitated by the ongoing pandemic.”

“We recognize that we are living and operating in an uncertain time, and it is likely that mid-September will be just the first milestone for many important decisions pertaining to the regular season and the NCAA basketball championships,” Gavitt said. “While circumstances may warrant flexibility resulting in a different and perhaps imperfect season, the ultimate goal is to safely provide student-athletes and teams with a great college basketball experience.”

So with that mid-September date looming, what could Green Bay’s basketball schedule look like this season?

Horizon League commissioner Jon LeCrone spoke to Justin Kinner recently on the Reach the Horizon Podcast and discussed a few different topics, mostly centered around the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s effect on college athletics, including what the college basketball schedule could look like in what is expected to be a season unlike any other.

“We will hear by mid-September from the NCAA relative to the start of the season,” LeCrone said, echoing Gavitt’s comments. “I don’t think we’ll hear much from the NCAA about the postseason. So for now I think the postseason remains as it is culminating in the Final Four in Indianapolis on its original date which is early April.”

“However, I think what our basketball community is going to have to get used to – we talked to our ADs and our coaches about this – the start of the season might be delayed and it might be delayed on a month to month basis or a week to week basis as the NCAA makes decisions. So the first line in the sand is mid-September. Right now we’re scheduled to start practice on September 29th and that could be moved back obviously.”

A delay to the season could mean no non-conference games or a significantly reduced non-conference schedule which could result in a big financial hit for Green Bay. The Phoenix are scheduled to receive an $87,500 guarantee to play at Oklahoma State, a $95,000 guarantee to play at Minnesota, a $100,000 guarantee to play in the Gotham Classic, and an unknown guarantee to play in Madison against Wisconsin.

A reduced non-conference schedule could likely still be salvaged even with a delayed start until after Thanksgiving or even after the New Year but teams may need to be creative in how those games are scheduled and where they are played. A recent piece in The Athletic raised an interesting idea of setting up 44 regional-based “mini-bubbles” including Green Bay playing in a Milwaukee-based bubble with teams like Wisconsin, Marquette, Northwestern, Bradley, Illinois State, Indiana State, and UWM. It remains to be seen if something like that is a viable idea but it is the kind of creative thinking that will likely be required if any kind of non-conference season is going to happen.

Unlike their football counterparts, the leaders calling the shots on the college basketball side seem to at least be committed to a national solution with everyone on the same page to avoid situations like the Big Ten and Pac 12 cancelling their fall football seasons while the ACC, Big 12, and SEC plan on playing, though the Pac 12 and Ivy League have both stated no athletic events – including basketball – will happen until at least January

“The NCAA staff, the basketball staff working in collaboration with the men’s basketball committee, the oversight committees, and the coaches association – that’s a real collaborative effort – and their focus will be on start date, end date, postseason.” LeCrone said. “…and our job as conferences is to fill in that middle range which would be conference games.”

“And then when you get down to the institutional level, how are we going to do that safely? Remember we have six or seven states, we have twelve schools, we have some travel restrictions within those communities so the travel restrictions can drive how the middle of the season might look like.”

So what will the conference slate look like? It was already going to be a different looking schedule this season with the addition of two programs over the summer to boost the conference to a 12-team league. But now throw in the uncertainty of a pandemic on top of it and there are many different scenarios that need to be planned for.

“We’re doing a lot of different modeling in terms of numbers of games, home and homes, travel,” LeCrone said. “But I think what everyone’s going to have to get used to in our basketball community from the fans, the media, coaches, and young people is this notion of a regular Horizon League season with twelve teams and, let’s say 22 games and it’s all home-and-home, that’s probably out the window.”

“You can think about pods of teams playing each other more than two times. Maybe we have pods where we play each other three and four and five times, that could be possible staying in a geographic region.  Maybe we could create our own bubbles where we bring a number of teams to a central location.”

“A lot of the modeling is taking place at those three levels – the national level, the conference and conference office level, and the institutional level. We’ll have to sort all of that out and figure that out on a week to week, month to month basis.”

Barring a miracle approval of a safe and effective vaccine between now and the start of the college basketball season it’s likely that there will be some positive cases causing disruption, much like we’ve seen in the first few months of the Major League Baseball season. Anticipating and planning for those disruptions is another thing conferences across the country are having to do before the season starts.

“The big challenge will be once we get the season started what happens if we have an interruption of play,” LeCrone said. “We probably will have an interruption of play and maybe teams that get quarantined. Then how do we respond to that so we don’t penalize a team or young people for things that happened out of their control. We’re thinking through all those things and we think we can manage that successfully.”

The NCAA missed out on nearly a billion dollars by not having an NCAA Tournament this past March and, according to CNBC, March Madness accounts for more than 75% of the NCAA’s yearly revenue. Much of that money gets passed down to conferences and schools across the country, many of which are more cash strapped than ever thanks to the pandemic. So it is almost a certainty that there will be an NCAA Tournament this season just out of sheer financial necessity.

Keeping the players, coaches, and fans safe and healthy while at the same time facing some serious financial challenges has conference administrators across the country are looking at ways to make the college basketball season happen and an NCAA Tournament happen, even if it is delayed beyond March and April.

It’s not all bad though according to LeCrone, who is hoping some good may even come out of having to get imaginative with it’s scheduling for this season.

“One thing I’m excited about is that we might come out of this with a real creative approach to a regular season for the Horizon League that might be something we want to continue with in the future.”

Listen to the full podcast episode here

Photo: Justin Casterline / Getty Images

Categories: Horizon League

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