Like a solid screen that came from the blind side, the basketball teams of the Pacific-12 Conference learned on Thursday they would not be playing games until Jan. 1. At least.
The Pac-12’s announcement it would postpone competition in fall sports included a declaration the conference would stage no intercollegiate competition until 2021. Men’s basketball has a nationwide starting date of Nov. 10, which NCAA vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said earlier this month he expected would hold.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin told Sporting News the most important thing to the Bruins is having some level of certainty about the coming season. UCLA basketball is one high-major athletic program that did not have its players return to campus during the summer months. In the Bruins’ regular Zoom calls, Cronin said, the players are asking questions about the 2020-21 season that he struggles to answer.
Now, he can tell them it’ll be the 2021 season.
“To me, you’re better off knowing,” Cronin told SN. “The players want to know: ‘When are we going to play?’ It helps their mental state, to know when the season is starting.
“At least now, I have an answer. We’ll start our workouts soon. We’ll start practicing on whatever date the Pac-12 gives us, usually 40 days before your first game but maybe there’ll be some accommodation because of this situation. But at least you’ll know. We’ll be able to give them some direction. To me, that helps a guy. They’re sitting around, like: ‘Coach, are we playing this year or not?’”
The Pac-12 statement included word from its medical advisers that rapid testing — results in hours rather than days — should be available in the coming months, which will help sort out who does and does not belong on an athletic field at any given moment. And, “We will have a greater understanding of potential short- and long-term health effects of COVID-19 to better inform medical decision-making.”
The Bruins finished last season with a 19-12 record and 12-6 mark in the Pac-12, missing a conference championship on a buzzer-beating jumper by crosstown rival Southern California. They have their entire lineup returning from that team, including leading scorer Chris Smith, who entered the NBA Draft but withdrew before the NCAA’s deadline to retain college eligibility.
Cronin does not know for certain what a January start would mean to the college basketball season, but anticipates the possibility of playing only conference games, possibly expanding to a full double-round-robin of 22 games.
“They’ve got time to work on it, and they’ve been working on it,” Cronin said. “The Pac-12 has had a committee working for three months on: If we don’t play until January, what’s the best way to do it? I think they’re trying to do what’s the safest play.”
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