UK AD Mitch Barnhart on college basketball: "At the end of the day, we're going to find a way to play a championship"

UK AD Mitch Barnhart on college basketball: "At the end of the day, we're going to find a way to play a championship"

Jack Pilgrimabout 1 year


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As uncertainty remains regarding the 2020 college football season, NCAA decision-makers are adamant that the 2020-21 college basketball season will be played. To begin the month of August, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt told's Andy Katz of that while things are up in the air elsewhere in the world of sports due to the coronavirus, the organization is planning on moving forward as planned. In his own words, Gavitt said that as long as basketball is being played safely anywhere in the world, they’ll find a way to play college basketball. “As long as basketball is being played safely anywhere in the world this season, we’ll be playing NCAA college basketball as well, both regular season and certainly the tournament in 2021,” said Gavitt. In a follow-up interview with Katz this week, Gavitt was joined by UK Athletics Director and NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee member Mitch Barnhart to discuss the organization's plans for the upcoming college basketball season. As previously indicated, extreme confidence remains that a season - albeit potentially different - will be played. "We've been working on contingencies and studying what it is that makes the most sense for college basketball for months now," said Gavitt. "We're five months exactly from the date the tournament was canceled back in March and we're three months from the scheduled start of the college basketball season. We recognize what's going on around the country and have been making plans and contingencies for a change if necessary. But we're also, as we've said throughout the summer, going to exercise patience and make sure we learn as much as we can from all of the other sports going on right now, notably the NBA and WNBA and the success that they are having. "Making sure we're making informed and responsible decisions in a timely fashion, we remain very confident that we're going to have a basketball season, albeit different, and maybe altered, if necessary. The virus, we don't control, it controls us. Leading into March Madness, we're very confident that's going to happen. Different contingencies are being considered [to make that happen]." When asked about one of those contingency plans - a bubble similar to that of the NBA and WNBA - Barnhart said there are obvious issues at play in that scenario. For one, student-athletes are still students, and academics come first. "You hit it with those two words: college student. That is part of the equation, we never forget that," said Barnhart. "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 it." Should they find a way to work around class schedules and create makeshift regional bubbles, though, that could be a possibility. Whatever they have to do to safely and responsibly play a college basketball season, Barnhart says they're going to do it. "The committee has been very thoughtful under Dan [Gavitt's] leadership of saying, "OK, what will it look like in '21? What can we do? Are we able to begin the season in our normal format? Or will we have to adjust?" said Barnhart. "Doc Rivers made a great comment before they even started this NBA process, he said, "Whoever wins this championship will have really earned it because this is a unique format, unique set of circumstances, ever. ... It may not seem fair, it may not be fair, but we're going to go on and someone's going to win a hard-fought championship." And I thought that was pretty thoughtful. "No matter what sport we've got going on, it might not be fair. You may look at this and say, "Oh my word, that is not fair." But at the end of the day, we're going to find a way to play a championship and we're gonna get through this thing. It may look a little different, it may be where we bring folks together, it may be in the same format we've done. I hope we can go and do what we've done at all the original sites and march through March Madness and get to a Final Four. It could look very different. We've watched the bubbles, we've watched them. We've said, "That's working" and "that's not working." We'll have more information and more time. Everyone is expecting us to have good answers, and the committee is focused on finding a pathway forward." While the NCAA continues to come up with ideas and backup plans, the hope is to play the season as planned "with some fans in attendance." If that can't be done, they'll come up with "about four or five contingencies," with one being a "bubble-like situation." "Our best hope is that we have the tournament played as scheduled with some fans in attendance, with 68 teams and crown a national champion in that way. But we'll have decision points along the way, including getting to a bubble-like situation if that's the only way to run the tournament safely and responsibly, to determine a national champion," Gavitt continued. "Will that be challenged? Sure, because they are students. They have to be in class when class is in attendance. There's a lot we can learn about modified bubbles and what the NBA and WNBA have done, Major League Soccer and other sports that have exercised that kind of rigor around health and safety. We're learning more by the week." Gavitt acknowledged that they need to take advantage of windows of opportunities, which includes some of November and all of December when students will be off campus taking virtual classes, followed by winter break. If a bubble needs to take place, that's a prime opportunity. "There are some opportunities in the season, as well, certainly when classes are in session, where a true bubble is just not a reality for college sports," said Gavitt. "But during the month of late November and into December when most of our schools are in virtual learning environments and/or after exams during the traditional holiday break, that is potentially an opportunity to create regionalized and controlled environments in bubble-like scenarios for non-conference or conference games. Some conferences have made decisions about waiting until January, and we're respectful of those decisions, but we need to take advantage of opportunities, as well. While this is going to be an imperfect season and an imperfect tournament - the virus does not know fairness and equity - we need to take advantage of windows that we have when they're there for us to get a season in and a tournament in in a very safe and responsible way." While things may look quite different from past years, it's apparent the NCAA decision-makers are doing whatever it takes to have a college basketball season this year.

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