INDIANAPOLIS – Starting with good news, sticking with sports, let’s acknowledge this: College basketball in a bubble could work.
Yes, the coronavirus is surging again, with infections rising more than 60% in seven states and New York in the early stages of another mass breakout and the United States on Friday seeing more positive tests and deaths from COVID-19 than we’d seen in a month, and all of that will surely complicat—
Hey, didn’t I say we’re starting with good news? Sticking to sports?
Start here: College basketball is coming, and in a state like ours, that’s terrific even if it will be unlike any college basketball season we’ve ever seen. It’s so unfathomable, what’s going to happen, that schools and conferences still don’t know how it will look themselves. And the season starts in less than two months!
Not ideal, but let’s stay positive. Seriously, this is me being positive. You can stand in the rain and shake a fist at the thundercloud, as if that will change anything, or you can accept it and grab an umbrella. Let’s accept that college basketball will be played, and let’s acknowledge that it just might work.
And let’s not forget this little detail: The 2021 Final Four will be here, in Indianapolis.
Confessions of a coronabro
They call people like me a “coronabro.”
They think it’s funny, and I guess it is. A coronabro, you see, is someone who roots for the coronavirus. People like me, we want the pandemic to beat sports. We’re celebrating that it canceled the 2020 NCAA Tournament and kept you away from the Indianapolis 500. We danced under lampshades when the coronavirus canceled the Big Ten football season, then dived under bedsheets when the Big Ten decided to play after all. We’re scared, obviously. We like hiding in masks.
Something like that.
Listen, don’t ask me to match wits with those folks. It’s not a fair fight. Their unique combination of intelligence and empathy gives them insights the rest of us, the coronabros among us, could never have. Their vision is superior in dark places. Think: moles. Also: dung beetles.
But even the dumbest among us, the coronabros who wondered how college football could be played on campuses with students partying and the virus raging, can get on board with the 2020-21 college basketball season starting Nov. 25 and ending April 3-5 with the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium.
This is me, shedding my coronabro skin. I am now the boy in the bubble.
We’ve seen it work with the NBA’s restart, where the league moved everything to Orlando in late July when Central Florida was one of the hottest coronavirus hotspots in the country. A handful of players left the bubble for reasons of testosterone and immaturity, but zero players tested positive once they reached the bubble. That’s amazing, bordering on miraculous.
But what happens in the bubble is science and determination, not a miracle, and if it worked in the NBA it could work, in theory, for college basketball. Granted, college kids are younger and less mature than the typical professional athlete, but they have the same motivation to get this right – they want to play – and medical advances will allow them to be tested daily, with immediate results, giving teams the chance to avoid breakouts when a kid inevitably catches the coronavirus.
Everything is in place for college basketball – much more so than college football – to succeed this season.
It’ll just look weird as hell.
Bubble, bubble, Doyel and trouble
Bubbles are popping up everywhere.
Casinos in two states, Disney World, even the Pentagon – the one in Sanford, South Dakota – are maneuvering to hold games in a controlled environment. So are schools large and small, with Duke and Louisville talking about it, same as Mercer, Winthrop, East Tennessee State and George Washington.
Cities are getting involved, and not just the best college basketball-bubble city in the world – that would be us, Indianapolis – but also Houston, Atlanta and Las Vegas.
That’s a lot of bubbles for a lot of teams, and college basketball is going to need all of that and more. Traveling repeatedly for road games is a non-starter for many schools because of the risk of exposure. Non-conference games will be minimal for all conferences, non-existent for some.
Controlling the environment is key in navigating a coronavirus season, which is why games look attractive in a bubble-like setting at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, and the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, North Carolina. The NBA-tested bubble in Orlando, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports campus at Disney World, could hold as many as eight in-season tournaments, not to mention more events – a la carte, these things are being called at athletic departments around the country – as the calendar turns and teams need to reach the minimum 13 games required to qualify for the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
The Indiana Sports Corp sent its 16-page bubble blueprint to every school and conference in the country, though it’s likely Midwest schools will form the crux of what we’ll see around here, with teams getting entire floors of hotels – or the entire hotel – as they walk those skywalks to games at the 17-acre Indianapolis Convention Center.
With schools already offering virtual learning, the education component has been addressed. And college kids will be better off in hotels and convention centers than in classrooms and on campus. Coronabro or not, I’m saying it: A college basketball player will be safer being tested daily and playing most games in a bubble environment, than anywhere else.
Oh, there will be games on campus … I think. Arenas will be mostly empty, perhaps entirely so. It’s not the way anyone wants this college basketball season to play out, but we tried beating this coronavirus with hopes and wishes – “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear” – but that didn’t turn out so good. Besides, we’ve seen NBA games in empty arenas and NFL games in mostly or entirely empty stadiums. Sure it’s weird, but it beats the alternative.
That’s one motto for the 2020-21 college basketball season: “Beats the alternative!” You ask me, the only thing that can stop college basketball would be an outbreak that stops the 2020 college football season. But college football players are, for the most part, doing their part. They want to play, and they’re trying. You can see that.
If college athletes were indifferent to the coronavirus, if they were in as much denial as their biggest supporters, breakouts would be everywhere and the season would be over by now. You don’t have to be a coronabro to recognize that it’s not easy, playing sports amid a pandemic.
Just get us to Nov. 25, and college basketball will start on time. Get us enough games in enough bubbles – one week here, two weeks there, another week or two somewhere else – and we’ll see at least 68 teams qualify for the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Then we’ll see a series of bubbles for the pods and regions.
And we’ll get the 2021 Final Four. The city won’t be bursting with fans, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about sports since March – coronabros and meatheads unite! – it’s this: Something is better than nothing.