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NCAA basketball season set to open day before Thanksgiving

BY ERIC OLSON

AP SPORTS WRITER

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for nonconference games.

“The fact our campuses will be clearing out, it will be possible to just further control the exposures, and the 25th gives us that opportunity,” said Division I Council chair Grace Calhoun, the athletic director at Penn.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, a Saturday. Calhoun said the council wanted to avoid a weekend start date because of potential overlaps of basketball and football games on campuses.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27.

“The rationale was that during the season teams tend to play an average of two games a week, so the fact we’re shortening the season by two weeks necessitated the reduction in games so we’re not being counterproductive and trying to jam more in a shortened season,” Calhoun said.

The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13. Calhoun said the low minimum is an acknowledgment that schools probably will experience different levels of COVID-19 cases and have to alter schedules.

“We fully anticipate there are going to be some issues as we go through the season, much like we’ve seen in football, so we want there to be flexibility for institutions to put together seasons,” she said.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14. Beginning Monday, teams will be allowed to participate in strength and conditioning and sports-related meetings and skill instruction for up to 12 hours a week, with an eight-hour limit on skill instruction.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed. It also was recommended each team play a minimum of four non-conference games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

The council also voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports until Jan. 1. In-person recruiting is prohibited during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

Also approved was civic engagement legislation. Practicing, competing and other countable athletically related activities will be prohibited on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November each year, including this year’s Election Day on Nov. 3.

The Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee proposed the legislation to provide a day each year dedicated to increasing opportunities for athletes to participate in activities such as voting or community service.

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