In a difficult season for college basketball, perhaps the toughest job is that of the conference official who not only has to draw up the original schedule but find room on it for games that were postponed because of positive coronavirus tests.
The official for the Big East Conference is Stu Jackson, the league’s executive associate commissioner for men’s basketball, and he has had plenty of work to do. At least 18 Big East games have been postponed to date, and Jackson is worried that he is running out of available dates to reschedule.
“I’m concerned because today we’re at a tipping point in that if a team or more teams go on pause due to COVID concerns, the opportunities to reschedule lost games and do so in a reasonable manner are dwindling because there’s just not enough time, schedule space, or the ability to match up games on a bye,” Jackson said Monday.
One of the most hard-luck teams in that regard is Villanova, which is on its second COVID-related pause of the season and third since September. The Wildcats are up to seven postponed Big East games, two of them being dates at Xavier. They have played just three conference games, fewest of any member team.
The Cats, who haven’t competed on the court since Dec. 23, aren’t scheduled to play another game until Jan. 19 against Seton Hall at Finneran Pavilion.
Jackson built in byes in case games needed to be rescheduled – two league-wide play dates plus one to three additional byes per team. While almost two months remain until the planned March 10 start of the Big East Tournament, the days are running low for all 11 teams to get the scheduled 20 league games in.
“We have our latest draft of the schedule [Monday] and it still contemplates everyone playing 20 games,” he said. “But again, being at that tipping point, if we get further pauses, I think that’s going to be near-impossible to do for all 11 teams.”
As for teams playing an unequal number of games, Jackson said conference officials, athletic directors, coaches, and players “understand that this is a very unusual year and that’s going to produce some unusual and sometimes unintended consequences.”
Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson said an advantage for managing all that is going on is “the collegial nature of our conference.” He said he is on a text thread with the other 10 athletic directors, which helps keep everyone aware of what each program is facing.
He said communication within the program is important, and that coach Jay Wright and team physician Mike Duncan have been “phenomenal communicators on all of the challenges.”
“At the core of those is the health and well-being of our student-athletes and staff, not only physically but from a mental-health component as well,” Jackson said. “We’re asking student-athletes and staff to do things that have never been done before. That’s what’s at the heart of every decision and every crossroads where we’re weighing all those different factors. Then second to that is the competitive nature, to make sure that we’re competing when we are healthy in a way that’s safe and responsible.”
Jackson said the numbers he has seen show that 81% of Division I games have been completed or rescheduled and that all teams are on track to meet the NCAA minimum standard of 13 games played to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
As for 20 conference games, he said, “I think entering into this season, we knew this wasn’t going to be sort of equitable across the board. We consider ourselves fortunate to be a part of a group of schools that understand that.