Here's the input the Big East received regarding its basketball protocols this season
One coach reportedly thinks that individuals should be able to test out of a positive PCR test
In early November, the Big East’s athletic directors held a Zoom call to establish their recommendations to the conference office regarding health and safety protocols for the basketball season, ranging from the minimum COVID-19 testing standards, to thoughts on a potential bubble, to whether pep bands would be allowed to attend games.
Out of Bounds has obtained the input provided by two Big East schools – Butler and Villanova – prior to the call.
The athletic director from a third Big East school, Creighton’s Bruce Rasmussen, expected most of the athletic directors’ discussion on the call to focus on the minimum testing standards for non-conference opponents, testing for game officials, isolation and quarantine procedures, a potential bubble and the conference schedule.
The standards for testing
The NCAA’s minimum standard for the college basketball season is that athletes are tested at least three times per week on nonconsecutive days, through either antigen or PCR tests. In an email, Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier wrote to the conference’s athletic directors that he preferred two PCR tests and one antigen test per week, if the necessary testing supplies are available. The conference’s doctors also recommended two PCR tests and one antigen test per week, according to an email obtained by Out of Bounds.
Villanova Athletic Director Mark Jackson, who wrote that he had “met with Doctor and President” to develop Villanova’s input to the conference, agreed with Collier. In late October, Jackson said Villanova planned to conduct a minimum of two PCR tests and one antigen test per athlete per week for its men’s and women’s basketball teams starting on Nov. 16. The Wildcats were conducting weekly PCR tests in October, too.
“Some weeks we may do 3 PCR depending on the schedule and supplies,” Jackson wrote.
Below are some of the testing considerations from the NCAA’s second edition of its standards for practice and competition document, which was published in November.
Regarding the potential for the Big East to purchase COVID-19 tests and equipment, Jackson said Villanova had been working to purchase supplies internally and Collier wrote, “Available to each school but not required.”
Here are the tests that Villanova had purchased as of late October.
Out of Bounds previously reported that the COVID-19 testing manufacturers Henry Schein, Quest Diagnostics and Quidel Corporation offered the NCAA fixed prices for testing supplies with the cheapest option being Quidel’s $23 antigen test.
Butler and Villanova’s athletic directors agreed that they would not administer surveillance testing for 90 days after a positive test.
“If the CDC extends this to 120 days, then we will extend our policy as well,” Jackson wrote. “As of right now, on day 91, that student athlete will re-enter the surveillance testing program and will have to quarantine again along with everyone else if they are a close contact again.”
The minimum testing standards for non-conference opponents was, and might still be, a critical conversation for every conference. It’s what contributed to a host of ESPN events that were scheduled to be played in Orlando getting scrapped or relocated.
Collier wrote that Butler’s team doctor approved a concept in which the two teams playing in a single non-conference game would handle the testing standards for the game on an individual basis.
“A conference requirement would create a possible impasse that requires the entire league(s) to solve,” Collier wrote.
Jackson agreed, and apparently all of the team doctors in the Big East agreed on a conference call, too. “However, the non-conference teams must follow the Big East’s testing protocol for one week leading up to the game,” Jackson wrote. “The question came up would we play a team that antigen tests every day vs. doing PCR tests. We left it up to each school, however the non-conference team must test at least 3 times a week (antigen or PCR).”
Returning from holiday break
Regarding the Big East’s protocols for when players, coaches and staff members return from the holiday break, Collier wrote that testing would resume immediately and negative tests would be required in order to return to activity.
“If the students stay on campus, we don’t have an issue and we keep playing,” Jackson wrote in late October. “If they go home, our thought is the NCAA and Big East is going to do whatever they want to do. We had three cases of COVID on Monday. All traveled over the weekend to states that are on the quarantine list.”
There’s not an NCAA-wide policy regarding the protocols for athletes when they return from the holiday break, which is part of the reason why the first two weeks of January will be a critical time for the college basketball season.
In late October, St. John’s Athletic Director Mike Cragg passed along notes to the rest of the Big East’s athletic directors, which had been taken by a member of the conference office during a Big East COVID-19 task force meeting, and one bullet point read, “The NCAA is not mandating a quarantine period or specific testing protocol following the holiday break. Institutional policies or local government requirements should be followed after the break.”
Isolation, quarantining and testing out of positive tests
Jackson wrote that all of the doctors in the Big East agreed that individuals won’t be able to test out of a positive PCR test.
“It is final,” Jackson wrote. “All docs agree in our conference.”
However, one men’s basketball head coach reportedly disagreed.
“Kevin Williard (sic) at Seton Hall does not agree,” Jackson continued. “Just so you are aware.”
Collier wrote that the Big East should follow CDC guidelines, which at the time meant that a positive test would require the individual to isolate for 10 days, that individuals who experience high-risk exposure to someone who tested positive would have to quarantine for 14 days and that testing isn’t required for 90 days after a positive test.
In the COVID-19 task force notes that St. John’s Athletic Director Mike Cragg distributed to the rest of the conference’s athletic directors in October, one bullet point read, “It was noted by the doctors and athletic trainers on the call that, due to the close contact nature of participating in basketball practice and competition, it may be difficult/unlikely to release players from quarantine if another player was the positive case.”
However, the length of time that key personnel will have to quarantine could soon be shortened. On Dec. 2, the CDC’s website was updated to state, “Quarantine can end after Day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring.”
Another line from the CDC’s website reads, “When diagnostic testing resources are sufficient and available (see bullet 3, below), then quarantine can end after Day 7 if a diagnostic specimen tests negative and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.”
The updated quarantining guidelines reflect what NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline hinted at during an NCAA Division I Council Zoom call on Oct. 29. According to a summary of the meeting obtained by Out of Bounds, Hainline “did feel data was pointing toward being able to get out of quarantine after 8 days versus 14 days based on new data but nothing obviously finalized.”
However, while Hainline and NCAA President Mark Emmert were reportedly optimistic at the DI Council meeting in late October about moving forward with the college basketball season and holding an NCAA tournament, “at the same time [Hainline] said we all need to be prepared for ‘a dark winter’ of increased cases,” according to the meeting summary. “He referenced the Netherlands currently falling apart despite strong protocols and the obvious spikes across the country.”
The threshold of available players
In college football, some conferences have adopted a 53-player minimum, although in the SEC, teams can elect to play with fewer than the minimum number of players available, as Mississippi State did in a road game at Georgia in Week 12.
In the Big 12, the 53-man requirement includes walk-ons but in the SEC, it’s 53 scholarship players, so while some conferences’ player eligibility rules are similar, they’re not uniform.
As far as the minimum number of available players required in basketball, the Big 12’s requirement is reportedly six scholarship players, per the Austin American-Statesman’s Brian Davis.
What about the Big East?
Collier wrote that seven athletes should be the threshold of the minimum number of available players in basketball, although he didn’t say whether that was scholarship players or total players, including walk-ons.
“Play zone!” he called it. “Cancellations are rescheduled when possible.”
“Sounds reasonable to me,” Jackson wrote.
Thoughts on a bubble
Both Collier and Jackson referred to a bubble as a “last resort,” but Jackson added, “but it gives us the best chance of getting the minimum number of games in.”
The NCAA announced that a minimum of 13 games against Division I opponents was required for postseason eligibility but NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt has said that schools can apply for waivers if they don’t meet the minimum number of games played, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.
Collier wrote that he would “prefer smaller, regional bubble (sic) on campuses.”
Six Big East schools are located in or around the Eastern Seaboard – Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, St. John’s, UConn and Providence. The greatest distance between two of those campuses – Georgetown and Providence – is just shy of a seven-hour drive, so theoretically, every school in that group could meet somewhere in the middle at Seton Hall or St. John’s if the Big East opts to hold regional bubbles and then chooses a central, on-campus location on the East Coast.
On the other side of the conference, geographically speaking, Xavier and Butler, and DePaul and Marquette are regional neighbors, respectively, with Creighton holding the distinction as the Big East school with the greatest distance between its campus and its closest opponent.
Below is a user-created map of the 11 Big East schools. DePaul and Butler are probably the best campuses as far as a central, on-campus location goes for the Big East’s five most western schools, if the conference pursues regional bubbles. The NCAA announced in November that it was in preliminary talks with the state of Indiana, and specifically the city of Indianapolis, to host the 68-team men’s basketball tournament, so Indianapolis could also be a strong option for a regional bubble within a conference.
However, if the Big East is to move to a bubble format, the local health situations in the conference’s footprint could also dictate where those bubbles would be located.
“Travel model until we can’t,” Collier wrote.
“Agree,” Jackson added. “Monitor the state of the country in January/February.”
If the Big East pursues a bubble model that isn’t based around one or more small, regional, on-campus bubbles, like Collier preferred, then Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, is within the conference’s geographical footprint and it could potentially be a viable option.
Mohegan Sun hosted Bubbleville, which is where more than 30 schools, including preseason top-five teams Virginia and Villanova, have played non-conference games early in the season.
Fans, bands and cheerleaders
Collier supported allowing fans at games if doing so is allowed by local health authorities. He suggested a 50-ticket minimum for road teams.
“Try our best to get fans in the arena,” Jackson wrote. “Each week that goes by I am less optimistic this will happen.”
Collier also supported the attendance of pep bands, dance teams and cheerleaders, as long a they could maintain a 12-foot minimum of social distancing. Jackson credited Villanova’s band director, Elizabeth Sokolowski, for her research and the plan that she compiled, but he said he was 50/50 on allowing dance teams and cheerleaders at games.
Both Collier and Jackson were in favor of allowing radio broadcasters to attend games, as long as they would be located away from the floor, if possible.
What do you think about the Big East athletic directors’ approach to a college basketball season? Comment below on the prospects of regional bubbles or what you think the minimum number of available athletes should be.
Recap of the last newsletter
(Click the image below to read)
“If officials appear to have a particularly quick whistle regarding a player or coach’s behavior or sportsmanship, or if there’s an increase in the number public reprimands from conferences against coaches who have public outbursts, or if school-issued punishments feel particularly heavy-handed at times this season, then the memos from the DI Men’s and Women’s Basketball Oversight Committees could help explain why.”
Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com or on Twitter.