For anyone and everyone clamoring for some clarity as to when not only college basketball will start, but also what a winter/spring football season may look like, say hello to the NCAA Division I Council.
The high-ranking decision-making committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, at which time it is expected to approve a college hoops start date, and approve parameters for winter/spring football.
Both matters are of great interest nationally, but also for the Pac-12 and, by extension, the University of Utah. The Pac-12 announced on Aug. 11 that it was postponing all sports until at least Jan. 1. With rapid-response testing coming to league athletic departments at the end of this month, the widely-held assumption is that the Pac-12 will look to back off that Jan. 1 mandate, potentially starting the college basketball season on time and starting college football as early as late November.
In any case, here is a breakdown of what is expected from the Division I Council on Wednesday, sprinkled with Pac-12 and Utah context.
When will college hoops begin?
The D1 Council is expected to move on a previous Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee recommendation and green-light a start date of either Nov. 21 or Nov. 25, roughly two weeks after the originally-intended start date of Nov. 10.
Ahead of Wednesday’s decision, there is little to no clarity on non-conference or even conference scheduling, but things are expected to come together quickly once a start date is in place.
The Pac-12′s official stance of no earlier than Jan. 1 would not allow for any non-conference basketball, while the length of a conference season would be up for debate. The league was originally scheduled to play 20 games. It could go with 20, but there would likely be room to expand that to 22 or 24.
If rapid-response testing is in place and the Pac-12 is able to start on Nov. 21, a to-be-determined number of non-conference games would come in to play. The Utes have contracts signed for 10 non-conference games, including three at Battle 4 Atlantis against a heavyweight field that includes Duke, Ohio State and West Virginia among others.
Multiple sources from programs scheduled to play Utah in 2020-21 have told The Salt Lake Tribune in the last week that everything is in a holding pattern with those matchups until the NCAA weighs in on Wednesday. Those same sources indicated that resolutions are expected sooner than later as schedules start coming together.
On Monday, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports reported that Battle 4 Atlantis would move to the Sanford Pentagon, a 3,300-seat venue in Sioux Falls, S.D. Dates, not to mention medical protocols, would still need to get worked out before everything is a go.
For what it’s worth, Sioux Falls-based Sanford Health, the Pentagon’s primary building sponsor, would handle testing, making the venue a feasible, even desirable option, not only for Battle 4 Atlantis, but likely other teams, games and events as schedules begin to come together after Wednesday.
What will a winter/spring football season entail?
For conferences that opt to push their seasons to the winter/spring, the Football Oversight Committee, of which Utah athletic director Mark Harlan is a member, is recommending to the Division I Council a maximum of eight games, ending no later than April 17.
This plan would include the ability to practice 15 times in 29 days just like during regular spring practice, but this plan is not merely black and white.
A maximum of eight games and the 15 practices in 29 days that would precede them would be for conferences opting to move to the winter/spring. If a league like the Pac-12 or Big Ten opts to begin before next spring, they do not get the 15-in-29 treatment. Those two, plus the Mountain West and MAC, all postponed fall football last month.
The Big Ten is holding out hope it can start by mid-October. While rapid-response testing has bred new optimism of a Thanksgiving-ish football start in the Pac-12, that feels like wishful thinking.
All four California schools and both Oregon schools remain under strict local and state COVID-19 mandates. Rapid-response testing may relieve that, but for now, half the league isn’t even able to pick up a football.
On an Aug. 25 Zoom call, more than a week before the rapid-response testing deal was announced and a late-November start became a possibility, Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham spoke of the need to preserve the full 12-game 2021 season next fall.
To that end, Whittingham felt at the time eight games would be the absolute maximum number of games allowed, but indicated he would be more comfortable at a lesser number.
Assuming the Division I Council OKs a maximum of eight games on Wednesday, it is unclear how many games the Pac-12 would try to play, regardless of whether it starts in November or later. Whatever ends up happening, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has been adamant that teams would need a ramp-up period of 4-6 weeks before starting games.