The NBA has so far set the blueprint for sports amid an airborne pandemic.
The league’s success at its Disney World bubble has garnered the attention of the NCAA — and Kentucky head coach John Calipari.
Calipari said on Thursday that he supports the idea of playing college basketball games in a bubble next season, including the NCAA tournament if necessary.
‘We can play the NCAA tournament in a bubble’
“The NBA and the WNBA has given us a path that we can do this, including the NCAA tournament,” Calipari told ESPN Radio’s “The Intersection. “We can play the NCAA tournament in a bubble. Instead of it being weeks on weeks long, maybe it’s shorter. You lose, you’re out of the bubble. You go home.”
Calipari’s remarks echo those of NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt, who told NCAA.com’s Andy Katz on Wednesday that the organization is seeking to “learn as much as we can from all of the other sports that are happening right now, notably the NBA and WNBA and the success that they are having.”
Gavitt previously vowed in an interview with CBS to conduct the NCAA tournament “if there's basketball being played anywhere safely in 2021.”
“Our best hope is that we have the tournament as scheduled with some fans in attendance, with 68 teams and crown a national champion in that way,” Gavitt said Wednesday. “But we’ll have decision points along the way, including getting to a potential bubble-like situation if that’s the only way to run the tournament safely and responsibly, to determine a national champion.”
What about class?
These plans address the prospect of student-athletes playing basketball and participating in the NCAA tournament, the sport’s primary revenue source. What about the “student” part of the student-athlete equation?
Bubbles like the NBA’s aren’t conducive to attending actual class, which is the primary benefited provided to most college athletes. NBA players in the bubble are being paid millions to play basketball. College players are not. How will the NCAA reconcile its mantra of amateurism while locking student-athletes in a bubble away from campus?
Kentucky AD addresses class
Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart fielded the topic. Barnhart is also the chair of the NCAA selection committee and sat alongside Gavitt for Wednesday’s interview.
“You hit it the two key words: college student,” Barnhart told Katz. “That is part of the equation, we never forget that. We’ve got an opportunity to educate our young people. They’re still going to class. They’ve still got school, some of them are online, some are in classes, some of that is hybrid.
“We’ve got to pay attention to being a college student, that is still a part of this process that we will have to factor in.”
Barnhart addressed the problem. He didn’t exactly provide a solution with that answer. Neither did Gavitt, who also suggested regional bubbles during the regular season that could be conducted during winter break from classes.
The best hope for the NCAA, which just canceled fall championships, is that a vaccine presents a much more hospitable public health environment by next spring. If not, it will face a slew of challenges as it looks to avoid canceling the NCAA tournament for a second straight season.
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