In March, when the onset of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 indeed was a novel concept, the Colorado men’s basketball team suffered a tremendous gut-punch after the cancellation of postseason play robbed coach Tad Boyle’s program of an opportunity to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Five months later, the Buffs’ hoopsters still are feeling the sting of the global pandemic.
On Tuesday, the Pac-12 Conference made its expected announcement to shelve the 2020 football season, along with the entire fall sports slate, until at least Jan. 1. Yet unlike other FBS-level leagues that have postponed the 2020 fall sports season — as of Tuesday afternoon, that included the Mountain West, Mid-American, and Big Ten — the Pac-12 opted to take matters one step further, postponing all athletic competitions until at last Jan. 1.
While Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott stopped short of declaring the 2020-21 season a conference-only affair, unless the NCAA eventually revamps the entire basketball calendar, that likely is the fate awaiting Boyle’s club as well as the CU women’s basketball team.
The Pac-12 was set to move to a 20-game conference schedule in 2020-21, but given the focus in recent months on attempting to get a football season underway, Scott said the league’s basketball working group will start to zero in on formulating a plan for January 2021.
“We’ve got to go back and work with our working group. We’ve got a basketball planning working group that has been working on different scenarios,” Scott said in a media teleconference after the decision was announced. “It also depends on what the NCAA decides in terms of March Madness. It’s just now one of the many things we now have to get to work on.”
The decision erases from the schedule one of the most anticipated basketball games in years at the CU Events Center on Dec. 22 against Kansas. Also off the docket is the Buffs’ appearance in the first Pac-12 Coast to Coast Challenge on Dec. 19 in Las Vegas, where CU was set to play TCU. The Buffs also were supposed to play Colorado State and Pepperdine at home in addition to making a November trip to Florida for the Fort Myers Tip-off. CU was to open that tournament against South Florida before facing either Wisconsin or Butler.
The Pac-12’s first 20-game conference schedule was going to include two December league games for the Buffs, including a trip to Arizona and a home date against Washington State.
Though a specific basketball calendar is unlikely to be settled upon until other conferences begin to address winter sports, Scott made it clear that teams will be able to work out and practice ahead of the January resumption of competition.
While Boyle admitted he figured a trend toward a possible conference-only basketball schedule likely was on the way, he did express surprise the league opted to go that route in mid-August.
“I wasn’t really planning on playing a true nonconference this year. I really felt like we were going to trend toward a conference-only season,” Boyle said. “I’m not surprised in that sense. And we can still do that starting January 1. What I was surprised with was coming out and making a decision in August about something that could possibly happen in November.”
Boyle also noted that given the semester break will keep the CU campus relatively empty between Thanksgiving and early January, he remained optimistic his squad could create a type of quarantine bubble that might have allowed for a few conference games during that window. Now none of those games will tip off until 2021.
“I know the safest place for our basketball players that they’ll ever be is going to be on our campus from the week of Thanksgiving until the second week of January when school starts again. There’s no place safer they can be,” Boyle said. “I was hopeful we could maybe play some conference games during that period of time. And there were discussions about that, but they didn’t get to the presidential level, obviously. That’s disappointing to me, because I really felt like that would be an opportunity for us to build our own bubble, if you will.”