ST. BONAVENTURE — For the last six months, we’d been operating almost strictly on conjecture.
Indeed, from mid-April, when he delivered a kind of state of the union address in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, through his virtual press conference in late-July, through his interview Tuesday with ESPN’s Mike Corey, St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach Mark Schmidt often had to fall back on the typical refrain.
“There’s more questions than answers,” he’d say.
“We’ll see how it goes.”
In that time, Schmidt was as much at the mercy of the coronavirus — and the overwhelming uncertainty it created — as anyone in his sport or society, unsure of the fate of the 2020-21 season, when it would start or if it would be staged at all. Six months and four days after COVID-19 first affected one season, we’ve finally received the first real bit of clarity on how it will impact the next.
Making official the longstanding belief that, at the very least, this next campaign wouldn’t start on time, the NCAA Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start of the season back by two weeks, from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. As part of this plan, it also reduced the maximum number of regular season games from 31 to 27 and cut the minimum number of contests for consideration for the NCAA Tournament from 25 to 13 (more details on these and other changes can be found in the Associated Press story on B-1.)
FOR BONA, and college hoops as a whole, this was good news considering one of the potential outcomes, as Schmidt noted in July, was the prospect of having no season at all. Barring a disastrous (but still possible) turn of events, and with an abundance of precautions in place, such as the growing likelihood of little to no fans inside the Reilly Center, there will be Bona basketball this winter.
Of course, for the local Atlantic 10 team, the impact of that new start date is already notable.
A year after the earliest start in program history — it played its 2019-20 exhibition game before Halloween — Bona will likely open on Wednesday, Nov. 25, its latest start since 1996-97, when then-coach Jim Baron’s squad began on Nov. 30 against Canisius at the former Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo.
Then, too, with Bona having to trim up to four games, its non-conference schedule, which would traditionally have been completed by August, will certainly have to change.
A YEAR ago, the Bonnies had played five games by Nov. 25, and perhaps it’s those early-season contests that will have to be cut this year. Gone, for sure, is its Nov. 10 season-opener, a game that likely would have been played in the Reilly Center against a Colgate or Yale.
One modification already in the works is the Bonnies’ trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam.
The bad, but predictable news, according to CBS’ Jon Rothstein, is that the 2020 event will not be held in the Virgin Islands and, with the new season start date, can’t take place as scheduled from Nov. 21-23. The good news: it appears the NCAA is making a concerted effort to still stage its myriad “MTEs” (multiple-team events), and that the Paradise Jam could be held in a different location — reportedly Phoenix or Nashville — at a later date.
For Bona, even after the first bit of true transparency regarding the coming season, a number of questions remain.
ASSUMING a three-game Paradise Jam and an 18-game conference campaign, Schmidt’s team would presumably be allowed to play up to six other non-league contests between Nov. 25 and early January (that start date was set, due in large part, to the fact that students at most schools will be home from Thanksgiving through the start of the spring semester, making for mostly isolated campuses on which to play).
But which games will still be played, and when, and under what circumstances?
And what will happen with the inaugural Atlantic 10/Mountain West Challenge, in which the Bonnies were to make the trip to New Mexico?
In time, those queries will be answered.
Until then, Bona, undoubtedly, has to be thrilled by the fact that there’s a starting date in place (which means the first official day of practice will be Oct. 14), delighted that, as of now, there will be a season at all.
“I just feel like we’ve got something special going on,” rising junior Dominick Welch said in a feature for gobonnies.com earlier this week. “It (stunk) last year that we didn’t get the opportunity (to finish the season); I felt like we were about to make a big run. But we’re just happy that we can possibly have our year back this year just try to prove ourselves.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)