Sports Leagues Should Bubble Up or Shut Down

Talking to you NBA, NFL, and NCAA

Under normal circumstances, this would be my favorite time of the sports calendar. College football is in its bowl season and the CFP is coming shortly. College basketball has started up and made it to league play. The NFL is about to start its own playoffs. The NBA has started its season with key Christmas matchups and has several compelling storylines. (I’m also told the NHL season is starting up though I don’t know much about it as I’m admittedly not a big hockey fan – don’t hold that against me hockey stans).

For obvious reasons, this is not a normal year. To make matters worse, most models predict the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths to increase over the next few months. This from an already astronomical case count occurring right now in the USA!

The Real Toll

Many athletes, coaches and staff have already contracted the virus even with all of the precautions that have been put in place. Fortunately, reactions and long-term effects have not been severe for most athletes as they are largely young and in good physical shape.

Abstractly, it may be easy to put this out of America’s collective conscience with just statistics and a lot of fake news stating that this virus is no big deal. Less so when we’re talking about real people, young men in the prime of their lives who have suffered grave effects.

Jamain Stephens Jr. (Cal U FB) and Michael Ojo (FSU MBB & Serbian Pro) sadly lost their lives due to complications from COVID. Xavier Thomas (Clemson FB) had a severe case and could not breathe fully for months. Keyontae Johnson (Florida MBB) and Tommy Sweeney (BC FB & Buffalo Bills) developed heart inflammation called myocarditis that could kill them if they don’t abstain from strenuous activity for several months. Johnson famously collapsed in game after a dunk against FSU and had to be put into a medically induced coma.

A host of high school coaches and athletes have also met with equally tragic results albeit to less fanfare. This is to say nothing of the perpetuation of the virus via spread to friends and family.

Watching sports has now turned into a moral quandary. Especially with light at the end of the tunnel so close.

The End in Sight

It seems likely that the average American should be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine by April or May 2021. Wild speculation but I’d wager the NFL, NBA, and NCAA could get doses of the vaccine for players, coaches, and key staff by March. (Side note: this would probably require NCAA athletes to be classified as essential workers, which should effectively end their amateur status and usher in at least NIL payments. For a lot of reasons, this is the way but that is another entire separate article). Thus, we are looking at a 3 month risk window. Maybe 4 or 5 months if these leagues are not able to secure vaccines early.

Many players don’t want to participate in this high risk window. Even if they make it through physically unscathed they undergo a tremendous psychological toll as well. Duke WBB; almost all of the FCS, D2, and D3 schools; and the Ivy League decided to cancel their seasons due to COVID. You may be aware that many NFL players and high profile 2021 draft prospects also decided to opt out. Similarly, 11 NCAA bowl games have been cancelled and 17 eligible teams have decided to opt out of bowls entirely due to COVID.

Bubble Up or Shut Down

Let’s make it simple. Leagues for which it still makes financial sense to operate in a bubble and continue their season should do so. Leagues for which it doesn’t make financial sense should not play until after widespread vaccination in 2021. If you can’t afford to protect your players you can’t afford to have a season.

High income leagues like the NFL, NBA, and P5/6 NCAA revenue sports can surely afford bubbles. Some others probably cannot.

The NFL didn’t institute a bubble for their regular season due to the number of people and length of time that would be involved. The playoffs kick off on Jan 9 and the Super Bowl is on Feb 7. So, the longest period of time a team would be in their bubble is roughly a month. With the top seeds from each conference on bye for round 1 it is likely the eventual Super Bowl participants will be in bubble for less time.

Several bowl games have instituted bubbles themselves. Kudos to them, the rest should follow suit. At this point, everyone would be in their respective bubbles for a matter of weeks or even days.

The NBA and TBT proved that a bubble can be a viable thing over a longer time period in 2020. 2021 can be just as successful for them and college basketball as well.

The NCAA already announced that March Madness will take place in a bubble in Indianapolis. However, a lot of damage can be done between now and then. Short term mini-bubbles don’t seem to be the answer either as the biggest risk is not playing against other athletes who have all been frequently tested. Rather the risk that comes along with living and interacting with others in close proximity. There has been talk about each conference doing their own bubble for league play but it doesn’t seem like much traction has been made there.

Legends Coach K and Rick Pitino have publically expressed their reservations at playing a season in the height of a pandemic. The latter called for delaying the season and potentially holding May Madness. You know when Slick Rick Pitino is the voice of reason you are in uncharted territory.

It would behoove the NBA to return to the bubble model that they pioneered on such a grand scale. For 2021, the NBA and the NBAPA have agreed on COVID restrictions such as not participating in social gatherings with more than 15 people and only going to approved restaurants. But that doesn’t do a lot of good when a large portion of the COVID surge is coming from small indoor gatherings. Even if the rules are followed, they are not sufficient. And we all know how good star athletes are at following rules. Especially when women are involved.

COVID-19 has already cost us so much and the end is within our grasp. Lets not put these young men and women at further risk at the peak of this thing for mere entertainment.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of John Glowatz.

2020-21 College Basketball Preview: Big Ten

For college hoops fans, it’s been the longest offseason in history with no NCAA Tournament back in March and even as we moved through the summer, we still never was for sure if we’d even see college basketball in the fall.

Yet, here we are.

The 2020-21 NCAA College Basketball season is officially underway and yes, there will be many schedule changes and postponements like we’ve seen in college football, it’s still nice to just get to this point.

In 2019, the Big Ten was the top conference in college basketball and while it did lose some top tier talent, it still remains the home of potentially ten NCAA Tournament teams.

Let’s take a closer look at the Big Ten conference for the 2020-21 basketball season.

Conference Preview
Valedictorian: Wisconsin, Iowa
Top of the Class: Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Rutgers
Needs Tutoring: Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State
Failing: Nebraska, Northwestern

Players to Watch
* Marcus Carr, Minnesota (6-2 JR Guard)
* Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois (6-5 JR Guard)
* Seth Towns, Ohio State (6-8 SR Forward)
* Aaron Henry, Michigan State (6-6 JR Forward)
* Luke Garza, Iowa (6-11 SR Center)

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2020-21 College Basketball Preview: Big 12

For college hoops fans, it’s been the longest offseason in history with no NCAA Tournament back in March and even as we moved through the summer, we still never was for sure if we’d even see college basketball in the fall.

Yet, here we are.

The 2020-21 NCAA College Basketball season is officially underway and yes, there will be many schedule changes and postponements like we’ve seen in college football, it’s still nice to just get to this point.

There may not be a conference as strong in 2020 than the Big 12. The normal powerhouses sit at the top, but up to seven teams could get into the NCAA Tournament come March.

Let’s dive right into the preview of the Big 12!

Conference Preview
Valedictorians: Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas
Top of the Class: West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma
Needs Tutoring: Iowa State, TCU
Failing: Kansas State

Players to Watch
* Jared Butler, Baylor
(6-3 JR Guard): Withdrew his name from the NBA Draft and instantly became the front-runner to win Big 12 Player of the Year. Averaged over 16 PPG last season.
* Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State (6-8 FR Guard): Star freshman may be the first pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Triple-double threat who can finish at the rim.
* Marcus Garrett, Kansas (6-5 SR Guard): Versatile guard who will likely contribute more offensively this season. Best defensive guard in the country as the defending National Defensive Player of the Year last season.
* Greg Brown, Texas (6-9 FR Forward): Another super frosh for the Longhorns, Brown flirted with the G-League before signing with the Longhorns. Will be a huge factor in getting Texas over the hump and back into Big 12 title contention.
* Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia (6-9 SO Forward): Considered jumping to the NBA, but made the right decision to return to school. Tshiebwe is a strong rebounder and finisher inside who will have more opportunities to impress in his sophomore season.

Final Take
The Big 12 from top to bottom is solid and have two true title contenders with a handful of teams likely to head to the dance.

Baylor is my favorite to win the title this season led by Butler and MaCio Teague, who both had options to head to the NBA. They’ll have some options at forward including Tristan Clark, transfer Jonathan Pchamwa Tchatchoua, and frehman Zach Loveday and Dain Dainja.

Overall, they are deeper and better than last season’s squad that won 26 games and was likely on their way to being a No. 1 seed. I truly love this Baylor team to make a deep run, but they’ll have Kansas right on their heels.

Kansas is just as deep as Baylor with a great mix of veterans such as Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, and David McCormack plus the addition of newcomers including outstanding freshman Bryce Thompson make Kansas again a Final Four threat.

Kansas looked to be a front-runner for the National title in 2020 before the cancallation and losing players like Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike will hurt, but I think both Kansas and Baylor could be Final Four teams this season.

Texas Tech will take some time to mesh as their roster was overhauled after last season, but come February, Chris Beard will likely have another powerhouse squad ready to make a postseason run. Don’t sleep on West Virginia either this season as Bob Huggins returns four starters from last year’s 21-win team.

The Texas Longhorns are the darkhorse of the Big 12. They feature a great set of guards led by Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, and Andrew Jones. Returning from injury will also be sharpshooter Jase Ferbes to add even more depth to the Texas backcourt.

Then, you jump to the frontcourt where Texas features a standout freshman in Greg Brown, who many thought was heading to the G-League to prep for the NBA. Signing Brown to pair with Jericho Sims and Gerald Liddell was huge for Texas to jump into the Big 12 conversation.

Not to mention, Shaka Smart may be in his make-or-break season with the Longhorns as he’s 90-78 in his five seasons with Texas with nothing to truly show for his tenure yet. This is the squad he’s been waiting on. Texas will be a fun team to watch for many reasons this season.

Cade Cunningham will draw a ton of attention on the Oklahoma State program this season, but as of now, the Cowboys still aren’t eligible to participate in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, so we’ll see how that plays out.

Oklahoma returns both Austin Reaves (14.7 PPG) and Brady Manek (14.4 PPG) which means they could be playing for a spot in the middle of the NCAA Tournament. TCU (Desmond Baine) and Iowa State (Tyrese Haliburton) lost their superstars to the NBA, so they’ll both struggle to stay out of last this season in the Big 12.

Kansas State also loss many players and they’ll spend 2020-21 rebuilding that program with some transfers and younger players.

At the end of the day, the Big 12 may be the best conference in all of college basketball and could possibly see four teams make the Sweet 16 and advance two to the Final Four. Maybe even a Baylor-Kansas National Championship?

I can see it!

2020-21 College Basketball Preview: Big East

For college hoops fans, it’s been the longest offseason in history with no NCAA Tournament back in March and even as we moved through the summer, we still never was for sure if we’d even see college basketball in the fall.

Yet, here we are.

The 2020-21 NCAA College Basketball season is officially underway and yes, there will be many schedule changes and postponements like we’ve seen in college football, it’s still nice to just get to this point.

The Big East use to be a traditional powerhouse, but it’s just been the Villanova-conference the past few seasons. This year isn’t much different, but Creighton and the return of UConn will make it a bit more difficult this season.

Let’s take a closer look at the Big East!

Conference Preview
Valedictorian: Villanova
Top of the Class: Creighton, Connecticut, Seton Hall
Needs Tutoring: St. John’s, Providence, Marquette, Xavier
Failing: Georgetown, Butler, DePaul

Players to Watch
* Collin Gillespie, Villanova
(6-3 SR Guard): Maybe the best PG in college basketball this season. Runs Jay Wright’s offense to perfection and if Villanova is a title contender, Gillespie will be a National Player of the Year contender as well.
* Bryce Aiken, Seton Hall (6-0 SR Guard): There’s no replacing Myles Powell, but the Harvard transfer will likely be the new go-to Pirate this season for Seton Hall if Aiken stays healthy.
* Bryan Antoine, Villanova (6-5 SO Guard): Expect a breakout year from the former McDonald’s All-American after injuries derailed his freshman campaign.
* Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton (6-2 JR Guard): The league’s returning scorer should have another big season. Zegarowski is a great scorer (16.1 PPG last season) and well-rounded point guard who will look to lead Creighton to a Big East title.
* Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova (6-9 SO Forward): In a guard-heavy conference, Robinson-Earl is by far the best big man averaging nearly 10-10 last season.

Final Take
Three teams could contend for the Big East crown, but I still feel Villanova should have everyone in their rear-view. The Wildcats only loss one player from last year’s 24-win team and while that player was their best player (Saddiq Bey, 16.1 PPG), Villanova still features a top tier PG (Gillespie), multiple standout guards (Justin Moore, Bryan Antoine, and Caleb Daniels), and a great big man down low (Robinson-Earl).

Villanova will likely be a contender for both the Big East title and the NCAA title, but don’t sleep on Creighton. Creighton would’ve been a top five team if Ty-Shon Alexander would’ve stuck around one more year. Nonetheless, with four returning scorers and the addition of Ryan Kalkbrenner will still lead them to a top ten ranking some time this season.

UConn rejoins the conference and will shake things up a bit, but don’t expect the UConn of old to take over the conference. At least not this season. UConn is more likely to compete with the likes of Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Providence for that third spot in the conference.

Georgetown looked to be building back up as a contender in the Big East, but the loss of Mac McClung hurt bad. Still, the Hoyas will be the strongest team in the conference with some good interior players, but lack of guards, especially defensively, will hurt them throughout the season.

Marquette, Butler, and Xavier are still going through a bit of a rebuild after some success a few years back in the conference while DePaul remain the cellar team of the conference.

2020-21 College Basketball Preview: ACC

For college hoops fans, it’s been the longest offseason in history with no NCAA Tournament back in March and even as we moved through the summer, we still never was for sure if we’d even see college basketball in the fall.

Yet, here we are.

The 2020-21 NCAA College Basketball season is officially underway and yes, there will be many schedule changes and postponements like we’ve seen in college football, it’s still nice to just get to this point.

This season will be like any other, but many of the names at the top will stay the same as we dive in and preview the 2020-21 college hoops season starting with the ACC.

Conference Preview
Valedictorians: Virginia, Duke
Top of the Class: North Carolina, Florida State, Louisville, Syracuse, Georgia Tech
Needs Tutoring: Miami, NC State, Clemson, Virginia Tech
Failing: Boston College, Notre Dame, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest

Players to Watch
* Sam Hauser, Virginia
(6-8 SR Forward): Transfer who could be the x-factor for Virginia to contend for a title.
* Garrison Brooks, North Carolina (6-9 SR Forward): Will lead Carolina back to a tradition of contending for the ACC crown.
* Jalen Johnson, Duke (6-8 FR Forward): Star freshman that will be the next in line to win at Duke then head to the NBA.
* Scottie Barnes, Florida State (6-9 FR Forward): Florida State lost a bunch of talent to the Draft, but Barnes will still lead the Seminoles to the NCAA Tournament.
* Chris Lykes, Miami (5-7 SR Guard): The most underrated guard in the country, Lykes is dynamic and impressive. Lykes’ will likely be a contender for ACC Player of the Year if Miami can stay competitive.

Final Take
The ACC lost more talent than anyone to the NBA and graduation, but as usual, has reloaded led by the traditional powerhouses. Virginia and Duke both look like title contenders this season, but it’ll be Virginia that stands out as the favorite led by a trio of stars with Kihei Clark, Jay Hugg, and Sam Hauser.

Duke will be led by freshman again this season, so they’ll need to mesh quickly to contend in 2020. North Carolina should be much improved this season as Garrison Brooks returns plus another star-studded recruiting class makes their way to Chapel Hill.

Florida State will also be contender and keep an eye on Georgia Tech this season as Josh Pastner has one of the best backcourts in the league this season. Louisville, Syracuse, and maybe even Miami will also have a chance to advance to some March Madness come 2021.

The bottom half of the ACC will still have question marks entering the new season. NC State returns a few players, but lost do-everything star Markell Johnson and will struggled to even get back to .500 play this season in the ACC.

Clemson, Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Notre Dame weren’t able to land any key recruits to change their basketball culture this season, but of the four, Aamir Sims may be able to guide Clemson to pulling a few upsets this season.

Pittsburgh enters year two under Jeff Capel, but is still a couple years away from truly contending in the ACC as they are very young and inexperienced which will cause them to struggle in league play.

Wake Forest has a new coach in former ETSU head man Steve Forbes, but it’ll be a while before their back in the upper-half of the standings.

Overall, many new faces, but it’ll be the normal suspects at the top of the ACC with three teams a chance to bring home another National Championship to the ACC. Each team enters the season with some questions, but Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina all have the pieces to make a deep run come March and April.