The NCAA Division I Council has laid out the blueprint for the start of the 2020-2021 basketball season. Teams may start practicing on Oct. 14 and are allowed to play their first game on Nov. 25, 15 days later than the original date.
University of Maine athletics director Ken Ralph said it is nice to have a starting date to work toward, but there is still much to be done as institutions continue to deal with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the big things is we still have to get the approval from the state and the university system to be able to participate,” said Ralph, noting that just because the NCAA has set a starting date doesn’t mean they will be able to do so until the state and university system give them the green light.
The state has an indoor event limit of 50 people at one site. But the state has yet to rule on whether or not they are going to allow a winter sports season at the high school level and that could impact the colleges.
“The next thing will be to shore up our testing protocol to ensure we meet league mandates, which are still being discussed,” said Ralph, who is on America East’s basketball planning committee.
He said the conference is still discussing its requirements, including testing.
“The final piece is putting together a schedule which has enough flexibility in case there is a COVID-19 outbreak [and we have to reschedule],” Ralph said.
UMaine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon said her program is proceeding as it has since the players returned to campus.
“It’s great to have a starting date. Our girls are excited about it, Vachon said.
“We aren’t going to change anything we’re doing. We’ve been preparing all along for a November start,” she added.
Under NCAA rules, college basketball teams will be able to go from four hours of workouts this week to eight hours next week.
NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said by starting the season near the Thanksgiving break, at least 75 percent of Division I institutions will either have concluded their fall terms or moved remaining instruction and exams online.
That will create a more controlled and less populated campus environment that may help reduce the risk of COVID-19 for student-athletes who stay behind.
Division I teams will be allowed up to 27 regular-season games, but no exhibition games or scrimmages against outside competition are permitted prior to Nov. 25.
The number of conference games will be determined by the individual leagues and that will help establish parameters for the number of non-conference games.
“You could have some leagues say they want their teams to just play conference games,” Ralph said. “We’re still waiting for other items to be cleared up by each of the schools in our league before we settle on a final schedule. We have a bunch of different scenarios.”
UMaine has numerous hurdles to clear before the season gets started. Employees and students who travel outside the state face a 14-day quarantine or must have a COVID-19 test that comes back negative.
Indoor gatherings in Maine are restricted to 50 people and a home basketball game would include athletes, coaches, trainers, administrators, support staff and Cross Insurance Center personnel.
“It would be difficult to play a game based on the sheer number of people you need to hold a game. You would be cutting it pretty close at 50,” Ralph said.
America East schools in other states are working with their own guidelines.
The later starting date will mean both UMaine basketball teams will miss out on some non-conference games.
However, the Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge scheduled Nov. 28-29 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, involving UMaine, UConn, Mississippi State and Quinnipiac, is still on.
The UMaine women are the two-time defending America East champs and were poised to play Stony Brook in the title game last season before the coronavirus cancelled it.