Pandemic Weighing on College Basketball Tournaments

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As the college basketball regular season nears its conclusion and the NCAA tournament awaits, some officials are troubled by the prospect of attempting to hold a conference tournament amid the pandemic. 

USA Today reports that some teams considered locks to make the 68-team NCAA tournament field may opt out of a conference tournament altogether, in the hopes of avoiding COVID exposure. 

“From coaches that I’ve talked to, it makes sense from a practical standpoint for teams who are going to the tournament to use the week before to stay safe and not go in as the walking wounded with guys in COVID protocols,” ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla told USA Today.  

“I do believe there will be some teams that opt out of conference tournaments knowing they’re a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament,” Louisville head coach Chris Mack said. “I would consider it. It probably wouldn’t be my decision alone. That’d be a hell of a choice.”

The NCAA will host its annual men’s basketball tournament entirely within the state of Indiana, with most games taking place in Indianapolis. The hope is to vigorously test and create a controlled environment for participating teams, coaches and staff.

However, the NCAA stipulated that all participants traveling to Indiana will need to undergo and document seven consecutive days of negative COVID-19 tests prior to their arrival in Indiana for the tournament. That stipulation means that some teams and conferences may rethink their conference tournaments.

USA Today contacted conferences seeking insights into their thinking. Some have reported plans to host conference tournaments at on-campus locations. Others have said that in the event that COVID-19 forces a conference tournament to be canceled, the league’s automatic bid would go to the winner of the regular season title. 

The heartburn caused by the situation may be warranted — as the NCAA tournament is one of the biggest revenue generators for collegiate athletics, and the pandemic has already caused dozens of scheduled basketball games to be canceled.

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