NCAA exec: Fill-in teams possible in hoops bubble

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Although their preference remains to host traditional men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in March, NCAA leaders have discussed the particulars of a postseason event that would decide the national champions in a bubble.

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said officials have had conversations about the particulars of a bubble, including testing protocols, costs and the possibility of using replacement teams if a squad in the field has to be quarantined because of a positive test.

He said the NBA shared its plan around its bubble with the NCAA earlier this year.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about and studying for some time, since the NBA shared their plan,” Gavitt told ESPN. “We’ve had a chance to see its execution. We know that it works.”

The Basketball Tournament, the winner-take-all event for a $1 million prize, used a bubble and replacement teams. All four of its replacements had to be tapped after positive tests prompted the elimination of multiple teams. But TBT also successfully completed the first basketball bubble event in the United States.

Gavitt’s comments follow those of NCAA president Mark Emmert, who declared Thursday that a bubble is a possibility because there are “doubtlessly ways to make it work.”

The concept has also gained steam among coaches. On ESPN Radio’s The Intersection on Thursday, Kentucky coach John Calipari said a shortened NCAA tournament in a bubble could work.

“Instead of it being weeks on weeks long, maybe it’s short,” he said. “You lose, you’re out of the bubble. You go home.”

It’s also clear, however, that any bubble format might demand a heavy cost. The NBA reportedly spent $150 million on its bubble.

“To create it is expensive and complicated,” Gavitt said. “It has to fit in the college environment.”

But the traditional tournament in March and April remains the goal for the NCAA, which has a “Plan B, C and D,” Gavitt said months after the NCAA was forced to cancel the 2020 installment of its tournament because of COVID-19.

Gavitt said the entire process will require flexibility. The NCAA would have to commence conversations with its TV partners to potentially address a crowded sports landscape in March and the potential impact on game times if college football is happening then too.

“If it has to be adjusted because of a rescheduled college football season,” Gavitt said, “we will have to take that into consideration as well.”

He also said the NCAA would be monitoring how the communities around potential host sites are handling the virus if a traditional tournament occurs. He said the NCAA would handle testing in a bubble tournament.

College basketball programs should have a better sense of the season’s start date in the coming weeks. Gavitt said he expects the Division I council, off a recommendation from the oversight committee, to make a decision by mid-September about the current Sept. 29 start date to allow teams that are set to play Nov. 10 to begin practicing.

College football’s leaders have offered a disjointed message about the state of the sport this fall.

Gavitt said college basketball will benefit from a unified approach. If a decision is made about the bubble, players, coaches and other stakeholders will have ample time to consider the plan, he added.

“I think it’s very important for the game to have consensus,” he said. “I think it’s important. This season and even the tournament will likely be imperfect.”

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