As the deadline for a decision about college football approaches, University of Alabama basketball has quietly been a positive summer story, a rare respite from the panic and politics that are beginning to mark the debate. In the halls of colleges across the country, the deliberation over whether there will be a football season on the back burner, but a roster-flipping recruiting class has Crimson Tide basketball fans cautiously dipping their toe back into the waters of outright hoops delirium, even though that usually results in being grabbed quickly by the 12-foot Crocodile of Perpetual Disappointment.
First things first, though. When a decision comes down about football, basketball will be the next sport to come under review. It goes without saying that a roster that includes Herb Jones, Jordan Bruner, Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackelford, Josh Primo, Alex Tchikou and, potentially, John Petty (who should have his stay-or-NBA decision at some point in the next few weeks) would be exciting. The speculation on Petty has been more positive since Javian Davis entered the transfer portal to balance the numbers. (On Thursday, he announced six possible destinations — Western Kentucky, Wake Forest, Xavier, Tulane, Georgetown and Mississippi State.) Petty’s decision will come down to more than just having a vacancy but his return would mean unprecedented perimeter power for the UA offense, already the fastest in major college basketball. Playing fast isn’t the question but there are others.
The questions are: will they play? If so, when will they start? Is conference-only play which has been mentioned as an option by Rick Pitino and others, on the table.
The issues unique to basketball involve probably a month or more of additional coronavirus data after the football decision is made. The logistics of playing in a confined indoor space are different than those of playing outside. One scheduled non-conference game (Yale) has already been taken off the board by the Ivy League’s decision against fall semester sport of any kind. The Maui Classic, where Alabama might play North Carolina or Texas among others in a strong field, put out a statement last week to the effect that it was still planning to have an event but that probably isn’t the final word.
At some point, even if it isn’t until January 2021, there probably will be basketball. Revenue from the men’s basketball tournament (although these issues apply to the women as well) is what keeps the NCAA alive. Every effort will be made to have that tournament in something like a normal fashion.
One interesting question among the hundreds of speculative pathways that could be pursued is this: if leagues do go to conference-only play, even if that means, for instance, a 20-game SEC schedule, how does the NCAA select a tournament field with no basis for comparison between conferences?
HD Intelligence, the Matt Dover/Colton Houston-owned company that assists Alabama and numerous other universities with NCAA-focused scheduling, sees a potential answer in football — the European variety, that is. Here is a portion of a much longer article available via their Twitter account, @HDIntelligence:
“The fairest way of going about (selection without non-conference games) would be to adopt a tried and true model that is already used by UEFA to award bids to its annual Champions League, in which the best teams from across various European soccer leagues earn bids … without any cross-league regular season games ever being played. It works by pre-assigning each league a certain number of bids based on prior-year performance metrics. This method is neither new nor obscure; the Champions League has been organized in this fashion for many years and by almost any measure is the world’s most popular and financially lucrative annual sports tournament.
“Here’s how it would work in college basketball: the NCAA would rely on historical selection data to pre-determine the number of bids each conference will receive to the 2021 NCAA Tournament.”
That would certainly bring even more intensity to the SEC games and, presumably, the tournament. That’s one option. It as we are seeing with football, the time to make these decisions is sooner rather than later.