Without football, the Big East Conference doesn’t have the headaches currently being felt by commissioners of the Power 5 schools trying to determine when would be a safe time to start preparing for what they hope will be the regularly scheduled start to the football season in September.
However, while the start of basketball season might be six months away, Big East commissioner Val Ackerman has started wondering about her league’s dominant moneymaker and what contingencies can be developed in case the coronavirus pandemic affects getting the 2020-21 year underway.
“Obviously basketball is at the top of the mind for everybody in a conference like ours,” Ackerman said Friday in a conference call with reporters. “I will say the focus of the NCAA right now mostly has been on fall sports.
“Just as an organization, I don’t believe we’re as far along as we need to be in terms of thinking out contingencies around the basketball season. But we are proceeding right now as if it’s business as usual.”
Ackerman said the conference would have to wait until sometime around Sept. 1 to take action on how to proceed with the season. Among the factors involved would be setting up travel and “whatever protocols would be needed to get practices going and getting your venues ready for games," she said.
Another consideration would be teams that play in NBA arenas, and how scheduling would be affected if pro teams have to adjust with the pandemic. Georgetown and Marquette play full home schedules in NBA venues, and Villanova (Wells Fargo Center) and St. John’s (Madison Square Garden) each have a slate of games.
“We need to know what our building availability is for those schools,” she said. “If the NBA season is disrupted or it affects what they do next year and the timing of their decisions about their schedule for next year, I can sort of preview that that’s going to add a little bit of complexity to the Big East as well.”
Ackerman also mentioned a “domino effect” if there’s a delay in the football season especially given scheduling on Fox Sports, which televises a vast majority of Big East games. Fox also owns rights to Big Ten and Pac 12 football as well as NFL games.
“I think that whatever happens in football can and will have ramifications for many of the leagues and could affect the basketball season in particular,” she said.
With the return of Connecticut to the Big East next season as an 11th team, each member will play 20 conference games. Teams also will compete in the Gavitt Tipoff Games versus Big Ten schools, and in The Battle with Big 12 opponents.
Ackerman said no fall sports would be played if students are unable to get back on campus. She added, however, that if some campuses open ahead of others, basketball players and other student-athletes would be allowed to work out and practice.
“We haven’t taken a formal vote on it,” she said, “but based on discussions with our [athletic directors], I think the mindset would be, let’s look at the welfare of the student-athletes first. If their campuses are safe and they’re lucky enough to be able to get back into the welcoming embrace of their coaches and their administrators, then let them have at that and not hold them back if the others of us aren’t quite there yet.”
In talking about the heavy losses schools suffered because of the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Ackerman revealed that the Big East had insurance that covered pandemics. Together with financial reserves that were established when the league relaunched in 2013, “we were able to access that to a degree to help mitigate some of the damage,” she said.
The 2020 Big East Tournament also was canceled on March 12.
The Big East is looking at alternative scheduling models for its six fall sports, including the possibility of a regional model that Ackerman said would be for this season only.