During a previous segment of his professional life, Longwood basketball coach Griff Aldrich worked in the oil and gas industry. Part of the job was formulating approaches for rapidly evolving and unpredictable circumstances.
Create several models while knowing that eventually one will apply.
Aldrich mentioned that Monday when he was asked about his vision for how college basketball season might safely start and move forward during a pandemic.
“I think we have to come up with multiple plans and be nimble, and be ready to adapt,” he said.
Aldrich sees the success of fanless “bubbles” used by the NBA and the WNBA, as other NCAA sports and administrative leaders do, and appreciates how that concept could cross over to college hoops.
“We’re absolutely thinking about bubbles, and what that could look like,” said Aldrich, a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and the University of Virginia School of Law.
VCU’s Siegel Center and the University of Richmond’s Robins Center as tandem sites for pods with several teams each?
“I think we need to really drill down on how we make a bubble work. Because I think it makes the most sense right now. I think Richmond makes a whole lot of sense,” said Ed McLaughlin, VCU’s vice president and director of athletics. “We have arenas, we have practice facilities, we have hotels, we have places that will feed the teams that come here. So we are looking at a bubble from a conference perspective, and a nonconference perspective as well.
“And I think that’ll shake out here within the next few weeks, six weeks, month, whatever that is. But we are definitely looking at it. And it is not something we’re doing lightly. The NBA showed us that we can make a bubble work. And if that’s what it takes to make college basketball work this year, until we can get back to normalcy, I’m all for it.
“Richmond is a great location for bubbles, conference and nonconference.”
Richmond coach Chris Mooney noted that students will leave most campuses before Thanksgiving, continue their educations remotely, and then return to their schools in January.
Their campus absence might create favorable conditions for lots of basketball games, potentially in some sort of “bubbles,” though Mooney suggested Monday that step may be a bit premature.
“Few organizations could set up a bubble like the NBA, on the grounds of Disney World,” Mooney said. He wonders if officials, clock operators, TV crews, athletic trainers and even coaches with family matters to consider would be willing to sequester themselves for several consecutive weeks.
“It just seems like a tall order and a big ask,” Mooney said. “I think it’s trickier than the NBA, for sure, but I do perhaps see it could happen with the NCAA tournament.”
There aren’t many sites more conducive than Richmond to centralized regular-season competition of Division I teams within easy driving distances. Virginia has 14 D-I schools. Throw in Georgetown, Maryland, George Washington, Howard and American from the D.C. area. North Carolina has 18 D-I schools.
“Given how unprecedented these times are, everything needs to be looked at and talked about,” William & Mary coach Dane Fischer said. “None of us have any experience with this, so it’s all being looked at.”
Aldrich doesn’t think playing in a rural location, such as Longwood, is a bad idea, believing a more remote location may be safer in terms of coronavirus risks. He acknowledges there are fewer hotels and restaurants in Farmville for guest teams than Richmond.
No matter where, or how, “The NCAA needs to play basketball. So, we’re just waiting on some guidance of what the season could look like and what our conference and nonconference schedules need to look like to make that happen,” said VCU’s McLaughlin. “But we need to play basketball. And that needs to happen. And we will do it.”
Players would be out of class and learning remotely from late November until Christmas, so taking them away from their campuses during that stretch wouldn’t be a problem. The “bubble” setup could be expensive, Mooney noted. But it would serve as at least a partial runway to the NCAA tournament, which will almost certainly occur in some form.
“I think the people in college athletics that are in power or invested would feel that they need the NCAA tournament to happen,” Mooney said.
The 2020 NCAA tournament was scheduled to result in a distribution of about $600 million to 350 Division I schools. Without it, the pool shrank to $225 million, and $50 million of that came from NCAA reserves.
“We are looking into and exploring all possibilities of what a men’s and women’s basketball season could entail,” CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio said Monday. Speaking of a “bubble,” he added, “that is certainly one of the things that we’re preliminarily looking into.”
On Aug. 11, the Pac-12 voted to postpone all sport competitions through the end of the 2020 calendar year, and the Ivy League also will not play during the fall semester. Meanwhile, the rest of college basketball still aims to tip off on or around Nov. 10, though that seems mighty iffy at this stage of the pandemic.
Longwood’s nonconference schedule includes guarantee games that will benefit all of Lancers athletics, and Aldrich doesn’t want to lose those dates. But he said, “If we have to play in the environment that we’re in right now, the bubble scenario seems the most likely to be able to execute.”
Staff writer Wayne Epps Jr. contributed to this story.