We're currently navigating the most trying, unorthodox and unique college basketball season ever. At the Division III level, almost half the country is cancelled from competition. Schools will close, opening the flood gates to transfer markets, coaching crunches and a whole lot of uncertainty. In Division II, there are lost seasons, sure. But budgetary concerns are primary: many institutions see a decrease in donations and fundraising efforts, which fuel so many scholarships. At a level already flushed with transfers, the movement at D2 will be insane next year, both with those searching for D1 opportunities and those looking for money wherever they can get it.
In the D1 world -- the world most everyone sees or thinks about -- things aren't quite as drastic, but heavy interruptions to the season bring severe financial implications. The stunted D1 football season and lack of "buy" game in major sports will crush some athletic department budgets. Some D1 conferences, like the Ivy League, have cancelled outright. Games are being postponed, delayed and added on a weekly basis with contract tracing and outbreaks as the enemy. Nobody knows about an NCAA Tournament, nobody knows how a vaccine might factor in.
What we do know is that things won't go back to the way they were as soon as fans are allowed back in arena and all levels are resuming. There will be either lasting ramifications/ changes to the college basketball landscape or trickle-down effects that impact future classes of players. Here's a list of a few thoughts that could change these levels, D1 in particular.
Lost seasons = lost skill development
First and foremost, let's talk about where college basketball is right now: severely underskilled from a fundamentals standpoint. AAU and summer basketball circuits are necessary for player exposure, competition that isn't available through high schools and for coaches to conveniently see recruits. The necessary evil that comes along with it is a severe lack of skill development during those times. The "roll the ball out" philosophies where more time is spent playing than practicing leads to erratic results.
Division I programs have, in the past recruited for athleticism and size -- the things that cannot be taught. There's enough faith that, with the amount of time Division I teams have to slow things down and teach, the skill can catch up. Demonstrate enough of it with impressive measurables and the Power conferences come calling.
We've seen that severely backfire in a year where access to gym time, development, teaching on the floor and 5v5 reps has been compromised. Teams who struggle to shoot it (hello, Kentucky) lose more games than ever. Young, freshmen-laden squads are hurting.
We may never return to the days where freshmen sit and wait their turn -- and that's a good thing. But I'd love to see an emphasis on further recruitment of skill, specialty positions and guys who are good basketball players, not just athletes. We might trend in that direction.
Even if we don't, look down the pike and there are 15 and 16 year olds who might go a full year without meaningful instruction, things they usually get from their high school teams and trainers. Different areas of the country are shutting down access to both, which could disadvantage some kids. It will be tough to project their development. Do you hold it against a kid that he's behind his contemporaries from a skill standpoint, or do you see it as a positive that his learning and improvement curve may be higher?
Regardless, Division I teams will have to carve out a great deal of time to teach and drill the fundamentals. This lost summer/ fall and the potential loss of high school play might mean, for some, they arrive on campus farther behind than usual.
More Games on one Road Trip
We probably all heard John Calipari complaining about a six-hour bus ride from Lexington to Atlanta and how that impacted his team's play. Everyone at lower levels of basketball collectively rolled their eyes at him.
What some programs have done through Covid scheduling is maximize their games on the road. An increase in back-to-backs or weekend splits has been made to diminish travel, and frankly, it's a trend that could be here to stay. Teams are playing multiple games in one region. Conferences are switching to multiple games at sites for back-to-backs, or adjusting with travel partners.
NCAA D1 teams do a lot of early-season tournaments with games three straight days, as a way of testing their fitness and preparing their team for "what championship weekends will be like" in February and March. But those concepts are abandoned in December and January for most, as conference play settles into a biweekly schedule designed around continuity and television time.
Why not have more of this? If it means extended periods of rest, more games on the road to raise SOS and RPI metrics, diminished travel schedules and safer practices, I'm all for it. Plus, there will be some gung-ho recruiter who schedules a bunch of back-to-backs or 3-in-5 day stints as a way of "preparing guys for the rigors of the NBA life" and makes it a competitive advantage.
Time to move on from the "self-imposed ban"
What a slimy, skeezy thing to do. You get caught with NCAA infractions and, five or six games into a unique season where there may not be an NCAA Tournament and so much is going on in the world that nobody will notice, you pull yourself from postseason competition. It's the ultimate save-face move to get in the NCAA's good graces by intimating "we take this seriously, so therefore the punishment deserves to be lighter".
What a load of crap. The NCAA has a ton of issues with recruiting and needs to clean up the game in those ways. But can we all agree this "self-imposed" ban can't happen, especially after a season has begun? If Arizona is ranked, there's about a 0% chance they self-impose. Sean Miller knows they'll struggle to make the tournament anyway. It's just... it's so wrong in every way. No program or coach should get credit from the NCAA for making such a cowardly exit.
If one part of pandemic recruitment will last, it's the Zoom meeting. For families that cannot get to campus or coaching staffs that want to establish meaningful contact before an official visit, it's a huge piece of the puzzle. Like anything else at the college level, it has to be legislated in a way that doesn't overwhelm the student-athlete. But it's a great tool that coaches will continue to implement and utilize, even once travel restrictions are lifted.
An addendum on this: more assistants and staffers will have to be tech savvy when it comes to social media, zoom inclusion and outside-the-box thinkers. The ones who rise up the ranks fastest will be able to embrace these changes (or already have) and market them to strengthen the program.
Bench setup and energy
Due to arena logistics, I get that we're unlikely to see multiple rows of benches again. Fans need their seats and capitalism is king. On an unrelated note, this isn't about making money, right? It's about the student-athlete experience...
Digression aside, the bench energy and setup has been a wonderful bonus from Covid games. The players are allowed to be expressive -- in part because referees are willing to concede that the energy is needed. The other part: players have more room to move. Their dancing and hollering does little to disrupt gameplay from a physical perspective.
I hope that continues. I really would like to see these guys going crazy after an and-one or a huge swat while fans are in the stands. Refs who tell guys to sit down on the bench are cops. You can't convince me otherwise.
An Analogy for You
Bear with me on this.
You're at a dinner party with fifteen people. Everyone has been served the same food, a plate of raw fish. At the table, Johnny takes the first bite and eats his fish pretty quickly upon arrival. A few minutes later, he gets up from the table to the bathroom, where he becomes violently ill, throwing up all his food despite zero symptoms before dinner. Johnny has to go to the hospital.
You and everyone else around the table look around at each other. The question is this: do you assume the fish could be the cause, and stop eating? Or do you keep eating because "there's no way to know if the fish is what caused Johnny to be sick"?
Would that change if the fish would kill Johnny?
It sounds silly, but I feel like most people would avoid the fish. Please comment below if you disagree.
Why is any of this relevant? This is what playing in the Covid-era has been like. Keyontae Johnson's tragic collapse and myocarditis diagnosis should tell us that until we can rule out the fish being the cause of illness, we should stop eating. Instead, college programs have pressed on, knowing so many players in their program have caught coronavirus and still don't know if that has long-term ramifications that can make them violently ill.
I suspect one good thing will come from this struggle and sacrifice these players have (sometimes unwillingly or under poor education) made: a strong case for unionization, more comprehensive compensation and a larger say in decisions made at the NCAA level. If there's ever a time for them to get leverage, it is in coming back to the table after the NCAA royally fucks up. We're one or two more tragic events from it being a major, major catastrophe.
At the very least, every athlete in America will no question the NCAA when they tell them the fish is fine.