NCAA endorses potential bubble use next year

  • Basketball recruiting insider.
  • Joined ESPN in 2014.
  • Graduate of University of Delaware.

NCAA president Mark Emmert endorsed the idea of potentially using bubbles for NCAA championships — including basketball — in the first half of 2021, saying Thursday night that it’s “perfectly viable in many sports.”

“Starting with 64 teams is tough. Thirty-two, OK, maybe that’s a manageable number. Sixteen, certainly manageable. But you’ve got to figure out those logistics,” Emmert said in an interview on the NCAA’s website. “There’s doubtlessly ways to make that work.”

Emmert said that Joni Comstock, the NCAA’s senior vice president of championships, and Dan Gavitt, senior vice president of basketball, have been working with committees and conferences to figure out the logistics and economics of how it would work.

“It’s obviously expensive to do that,” he said. “But we’re not going to hold a championship in a way that puts student-athletes at risk.

“If we need to do a bubble model and that’s the only way we can do it, then we’ll figure that out.”

While Emmert acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic ultimately will dictate the schedule for winter and spring sports, as well as the fall sports that were postponed until the spring, he said the preference would be to keep the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments as scheduled, beginning in March and ending in early April.

“Men’s and women’s basketball, we’ve got to do what we need to do to support those athletes and those timelines,” Emmert said. “We’re talking, of course, with our media partners pretty constantly now about what flexibility they would have and we would have. We’d love nothing more than to hold the current dates constant, and that may well be doable … We’re hopeful we can do that, but we are looking at alternatives. Moving backward if we needed to — where can we plug that in?”

Emmert announced Thursday that there would be no fall NCAA championships due to the number of teams participating dropping below the 50% threshold in every sport. But he had optimism for having championships in 2021.

“This is mostly logistics and health care and media time. These are not insurmountable problems,” he said. “They’re hard, but they’re not insurmountable.”

Multiple college basketball officials have spoken to ESPN about the importance of COVID-19 testing in being able to have a men’s and women’s college basketball season, and Emmert discussed how he’s hoping for an improvement in that department by December and January.

“I’m actually pretty optimistic given all of the brainpower and energy and, frankly, money that’s being put on the testing issue in the private sector as well as the public sector, that we’re months away … from having much higher quality antigen testing — in terms of its reliability — much greater availability of those tests, and at a cheaper price point,” he said. “And if we can get there, then as we move into the winter, we can do much, much more testing, we can do it frequently, we can do it daily in a perfect world, and it’s turned around in 15 minutes instead of 15 days.”

The 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament was canceled on March 12, marking the first time since it began in 1939 that no men’s champion was crowned. It was the first time no women’s basketball champion was decided since 1982, when the NCAA tournament began in women’s basketball.

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