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Big Ten basketball coaches and athletic directors have high hopes for 2020-21 season

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The conference is keeping its options open.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

We are just under three months away from the Michigan Wolverines first “confirmed” game on the court against Georgia State. The hope of that game happening is all fans of the university can cling to with the Big Ten canceling its 2020 fall football season. The PAC-12 and several other conferences have followed suit, but unlike some of them, the Big Ten remains open to playing college basketball if the stars align.

Some notable people from across the Big Ten have spoken rather optimistically about the 2020-21 season contrasting the plans of the fall football season. Two athletic directors of two of the top teams in the conference, Illinois’ Josh Whitman and Michigan State’s Bill Beekman, each had a few comments on the likelihood they can get things rolling,

Whitman spoke with the media on a Zoom call on Wednesday and said the following about the season:

“I think the message to our student-athletes in our winter sports, and in particular our basketball programs, is just keep doing what you’re doing and get yourself ready. We’re going to go out and play. We’re going to continue down that course until someone tells us that we can’t.”

“As I sit here today, I’m still optimistic that we’ll be able to play our winter sports.”

How would it look? Well both Whitman and Beekman from Michigan State brought up in their respective conference calls the Big Ten had preliminary discussions on crafting a bubble.

“We need to put everything on the table and figure out how to make things work if it’s at all possible,” Beekman said. “I, of course, fully support that perspective, and we’re working on it. But yeah, I think that some sort of a, maybe not at the level that the NBA is at, but some sort of an environment that is more bubble-like — I’ll put it that way — may be viable and maybe more viable at a time like this than it would have been at other times when almost all of our classes were in person...I think the question of being off campus for a longer period of time becomes more feasible when the vast majority of classes are online.”

Whitman echoed a similar mantra, but had a more concerned outlook on the financial aspect of building a bubble like the NBA, which Reuters reported cost over $150 million.

“I know that there’s been some conversations thrown around publicly about the idea of a college basketball bubble. Whatever it would be, it would certainly be different than the primary bubble which is what the NBA has been able to do down in Orlando. There’s some major differences between what we would be able to do and what they do there. So, I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to truly create a bubble, but I do think there is an opportunity for us to be able to really look at having an environment that’s as safe as possible for basketball. I think there’s some unique opportunities presented during the winter months that we could try and take advantage of to try to maximize that to the best of our ability.”

Beekman too mentioned the talks of a potential bubble were not “significant, in-depth conversations.”

The man that works right underneath Beekman as the head basketball coach for the Spartans, Tom Izzo, expressed a high amount of confidence about the season occurring to the Athletic ($). “I know we’re going to play. I don’t even think it’s a question. I’m not sure how the parameters will work — whether there’s a vaccine, whether there’s a bubble, whether we just play 26 conference games round-robin, but I think we’ll find a way.”

Izzo not only mentioned one bubble, but a potential of multiple bubbles for a combination of in-conference and non-conference matchups:

“I don’t know what it would be, but I would picture it as bubbles — multiple bubbles,” Izzo said. “Like, if there were nonconference games, instead of us (just playing one game in the Champions Classic), the four teams go to one city, we all get the same hotel, we’re all quarantined and tested, and instead of one game, we all play each other on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Maybe in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, we go to Atlanta and play three ACC teams or something like that. I think there could be all kinds of bubbles.”

No matter how it looks, according to a Q&A with the NCAA’s vice president Dan Gavitt on The Athletic ($), fiscally-speaking, this season has to happen.

Everybody talks about the finances of losing the tournament, but the need to go beyond that is more than just money, right? I mean in terms of the psyche of the players and coaches, and the continuity of the sport.

Correct. We absolutely have to play the tournament.

Gavitt believes it could certainly be a possibility:

“What gives me the greatest confidence about the tournament is we are seeing basketball being played safely in Orlando and Bradenton right now. Now, while we may not be able to replicate what the NBA and WNBA are doing exactly, we can take and learn from that experience and, if necessary, implement that in a tournament setting. That’s what gives me confidence for March Madness.”

Even with that prospective idea in mind, Gavitt continued saying, “That’s not our planning right now. The vice president has hopes that there will be a traditional format of the tournament, with the dates and sites as normal. We are going to have a Plan B, C and D, and we are far along in developing all of them.”

There is still a lot up in the air with this virus and how it will continue to impact the landscape of the NCAA. But one thing is certain — the Big Ten and the NCAA are going to exhaust every possibility before giving up one of the most profitable portions of their academic year, especially after it was canceled last season.