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Bubble Could Spell Trouble For College Basketball

USAG- Humphreys via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If we’ve learned nothing over the past seven months, it’s that there truly is no shame in college sports. 

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March, officials at the highest levels of the nation’s universities, not to mention athletic departments, have contorted themselves into human pretzels, all in the name of getting games going again.

Oh, there have been a few shining moments, like at the very beginning, when the men’s and women’s basketball seasons shut down just short of conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament.


The lacrosse, baseball and softball seasons were all also rightly postponed in deference to the growing pandemic. 

Throughout the spring and early summer, we waited to see if these so-called academic leaders would call a temporary halt to the fall sports, like football.

While a few leagues decided to play football, the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences said initially they would wait until the winter or spring to launch football and other fall sports, when the virus had settled down and things were back to normal.

Eventually, the Big Ten capitulated to pressure from parents, players and even Donald Trump. As a result, its 14 teams, including Maryland, lined up to play this past weekend, with the Pac-12 starting soon. 

With one cash cow let loose from the barn, the next is college basketball. Though many schools haven’t even announced a schedule, teams have begun to practice on campuses, many of which where there are no other students.

While the football programs are playing exclusively within their leagues, the basketball teams will have to cobble some sort of non-conference slate to go along with their conference games in order to be considered for whatever the postseason will be.

Reportedly, as many as 35 teams, or a little more than 10 percent of all Division I programs will gather at a Connecticut casino and resort to try to play in a series of early-season tournaments.

In conjunction with the nearby Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, the Mohegan Sun complex will host schools like Villanova, Baylor, Virginia, Southern California and Brigham Young during a timeframe dating from just before Thanksgiving to Dec. 5. 

Each team will reportedly be tested upon arrival and will stay on its own secured floor at the hotel facility with meeting and catered dining areas, avoiding contact with each other until game time. Referees will also be sequestered during these two weeks.

Now, if this sounds like the bubble that was so successful this summer for the NBA, WNBA and NHL, that’s not by accident, though officials are loathe to call it a bubble.

Quarantining hockey and basketball players was essential to those leagues being able to see their seasons to a successful conclusion. 

Of course, there is one important distinction between what happened this summer and what will happen this fall. The NBA, NHL and WNBA participants are all professionals and mostly well compensated for their time and for the health risk.

These college athletes, meanwhile, are not professionals, wink-wink, and are not well paid for this. They’re just expected to show up and make money for people who really should be embarrassed, but don’t know the meaning of the word.

And that’s how I see it for this week. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.


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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.