The cancelation of the 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the college basketball season as a whole back in March was sobering, and it served as a realization for many that the COVID-19 pandemic was very real and had very much arrived in the United States. March was filled with uncertainty as college basketball conferences and the NCAA as a whole battled a “should we or shouldn’t we” dilemma as no one wanted to be the first one to cancel their tournament. But, it eventually came to the inevitable.
The pandemic is still in full swing, unfortunately, but college basketball is about to get another crack at playing games during these unprecedented times. The NCAA and its conferences have had plenty of time to formulate a working strategy and to learn from the protocols of professional sports leagues in the US.
So, how will college basketball work in the 2020-21 season?
The NCAA has every intention to begin the 2020-21 men’s college basketball season on Nov. 25. That day was a strategic plan from Dan Gavitt (VP for NCAA basketball) as students will be home for Thanksgiving break across college campuses. Less students on campus means less opportunity for an NCAA basketball game to turn into a superspreader event.
From there, teams will play a shortened 27-game schedule – as opposed to the regular 35 games – with there being a 13-game minimum for NCAA Tournament eligibility. The NCAA board recommends four out-of-conference games for teams to aid with seeding for March Madness, though it’s not been made a requirement.
Then, come March 2021, the NCAA Tournament will proceed as “normal” with 68 teams. Note, it’ll only be as normal as normal can be at that time. That’s determinant on whether a vaccine has been approved and widely distributed by then.
How the plan was formed
Different than college football, college basketball has a single governing body that was able to make a unified decision.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski acknowledged that the NCAA board took a careful look at what the NBA did, though it’s been argued that a bubble is impossible for unpaid student athletes. They surely took a look at how MLB and the NFL have been handling COVID-19 outbreaks and cases.
Every facet of the season plan was formed around a set of guidelines released by the NCAA Sport Science Institute. Though not yet set in stone, it’s unlikely that fans will be in attendance at games this season.
What it means for sports betting
Due to the close proximity of the crowd and closed-in environment of these 5,000-seat arenas, college basketball has one of the ultimate home-facility advantages in all of sport. Just ask anyone who’s played a road game at Duke – the crowd makes a massive difference and the environment inside these buildings leads to huge momentum swings as well as massive upsets.
Without fans in attendance, betting lines will certainly be affected.
As far as strategy goes, this means that chalk bets and favorites should be the go-to this year. Sorry for those who root against Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas – this might just be the year for traditional powerhouses.