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What’s going on with basketball season?

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Well, we might as well answer the basketball question from the mailbag...

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Vanderbilt vs Arkansas Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

VUAllday asked:

At this point in the covid culture, do we know what the basketball season is going to look like? Schedule? Fans at games? Season and SEC projections?

Since Andrew posted the call for questions for the football mailbag yesterday, this question came up in the comments and... well, it’s not a football question. Anyway, I will attempt to answer this one.

We have something of an outline of what basketball season will look like. The NCAA has mandated that the season will start on November 25, and teams will play a maximum of 25 games, with the possibility of adding two games through multi-team events (MTEs), or holiday tournaments in layman’s terms. While this is allegedly a shorter season, I, a person who has been following college basketball since the early 1990s, remembers a time when college basketball season started on Thanksgiving weekend with the sole exception of the Preseason NIT, and teams played a maximum of 26 games with only a handful of teams exceeding that via holiday tournaments. So... this actually isn’t that weird? Meanwhile, the SEC has announced that conference play will start on December 29 or 30.

As far as schedules go, well, most of that is up in the air at this point. The SEC hasn’t announced the conference schedule, and only a handful of teams have announced nonconference schedules. The biggest hangup appears to be those pesky holiday tournaments: with the season opener pushed back, some of them had to be rescheduled, some had to be moved (with, apparently, few teams wanting to make a trip to Hawaii or the Bahamas or Cancun or wherever), and some have been cancelled altogether. Because of all that, teams have to work the rest of the schedule around a potential MTE. Normally that’s done well in advance, but now that it’s a moving target, I think that’s affecting teams’ ability to fill out their schedules.

(Relatedly, I wouldn’t be too terribly shocked if some schools are waiting to see if that start date will be pushed back even further, though I doubt that will happen considering that the whole point of delaying it was to have the start date fall after most schools are done for the fall semester.)

And, of course, who knows about fans at games. I’d think they would be limited at best, but basketball — an indoor sport — introduces some problems with attendance that simply aren’t the case for football. Nobody wants to host a superspreader event.

You’ll have to wait until my preview series — which should run in the two weeks before the season starts — to get my thoughts on the SEC this year. Sorry.

Now, a final thought: I do think that college basketball season is very much going to happen, regardless of what some people may tell you, and the NCAA Tournament is absolutely going to happen because the NCAA has bills to pay and can’t pay them if the tournament is called off two years in a row. (Is that right? No, but I frankly don’t care, because it’s the reality of the situation.) It’s probably going to look like football season, and not just in the sense of the season being shortened and having a later-than-normal start date. Some teams are just going to randomly go into hibernation for a couple of weeks, leading to games being postponed and/or cancelled. Then again, unlike football, you don’t really have to worry about numbers. A football team might have trouble playing a game with only 50 players available, but a college basketball team can absolutely play a game with seven players available. Hell, Vanderbilt did it for basically an entire season, so how would this be any different?