The Future of College Basketball in 2020-21

By Brian Zhang

When it comes to being a basketball fan, everyone knows what happens in March. It’s one of the most competitive and exciting times of year that sends millions of college basketball fans into a frenzy. However, this year, arguably the greatest yearly sporting event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 6 months ago, 68 teams lost their shot at competing on the biggest stage of basketball after the cancellation of the 2020 March Madness tournament.

As the world progresses and adjusts to the problematic circumstances the pandemic has provoked, professional sports leagues around the world have been frantically putting the pieces together of their future. Both the NBA and MLB have organized a successful return in late July; the NFL and NCAA football have just returned. Though college basketball would normally start in November, conclusions have yet to be made.

Recently the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, Dan Gavitt, brought updates on the upcoming college basketball season and the plans that are in the works.

“Right now, we’re still planning on conducting a tournament as scheduled in March and April,” Gavitt remarked in a virtual meeting with the tournament selection committee this month. “That’s definitely our preference.”

Although the range of possibilities is limited, there are viable options remaining. Just last week, the ACC conference proposed a 357-team NCAA College Basketball Tournament. The daunting suggestion, however, was shut down by the college basketball committee several hours later. 

Another thought has been conference-only schedules, a shortened season where teams play against only those who are in their division. In recent months, conference-only games have been a heavily considered thought. If the idea goes through, a change like this will affect the entire college sports perspective.

In a discussion with the host of March Madness, Andy Catz, Gavitt was questioned about a conference-only basketball schedule and what it would mean for the March Madness tournament.

“The basketball committee spent a considerable amount of time over the last three days talking about scenarios like you just posed, Andy, and understanding that there may be very different scenarios between conferences and individual teams,” Gavitt said. “With the number of games played, with when the season for certain teams and conferences might start and or be interrupted. So we spent time on two things. One is that we’re going to be very flexible with the automatic qualifier status of each league, so going all the way into probably February allowing for conferences to change their automatic qualifier determination if necessary.”

Indeed Gavitt and the college basketball committee must be flexible and open to significant changes because if college basketball doesn’t return sooner or later, the NCAA will be looking at another huge loss in revenue. Canceling March Madness this 2019-20 year alone cost the NCAA about $375 million, according to Forbes. 

A dire and difficult road steadies ahead, as college basketball receives more pressure to reopen while having to find ways of keeping the well-being of players and staff intact. 

“We’ll learn a lot from what’s going on right now in Orlando with Major League Soccer and the NBA and Major League Baseball, and we’ll adapt from their experience,” Gavitt said. “As long as basketball is played safely in 2021, we will have a regular season, we will have a tournament. I’m confident in that.”