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Altered college basketball landscape might be further scuttled with all-in NCAA tourney proposal

CU Buffs coach Tad Boyle still rolling with the changes

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s head coach, Tad Boyle, during a time out against Iona in Boulder on Dec. 29, 2019.

At the end of a recent conversation, Colorado men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle joked that there should be a new asterisk in the updated version of his program’s historical archives.

That asterisk would denote the NCAA Tournament appearance that never was for the Buffaloes, as CU’s expected 15th appearance in the Big Dance was erased by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

As it turns out, there might be another pandemic-driven asterisk in the works for basketball archivists, though in much different context. On Wednesday, The Stadium first reported that basketball coaches in the ACC are pushing the NCAA to expand the 2021 basketball tournament to include all of the eligible 357 Division I teams.

Later on Wednesday afternoon, prominent league coaches like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Louisville’s Chris Mack, and Wake Forest’s Steve Forbes released statements backing the proposal.

Until details emerge, and until a decision on the direction of the college basketball season is determined as expected at next week’s Division I Council meeting, the proposal will remain long on chatter and short on concrete news. Boyle himself has stated on several occasions he is taking a day-at-a-time approach to how his team’s 2020-21 season might unfold, and nothing has changed.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Boyle said. “You can speculate all you want, it doesn’t do any good. You have to be ready and be nimble, so that when an announcement is made you’re ready to go in the direction you need to go. I think we’re all in that boat a little bit right now in that there’s a lot more questions than answers.”

It has been nearly one month since the Pac-12’s Aug. 11 announcement postponing all athletic competition until at least Jan. 1, compromising the start of the men’s and women’s basketball seasons along with the more-expected delays to the fall sports calendar. Since then, the NCAA has started exploring a possible late November or early December start to the basketball seasons, and the Pac-12 Hotline at the San Jose Mercury News reported two weeks ago the league might be willing to back off its proposed Jan. 1 start date for basketball.

More important to the potential re-start of Pac-12 basketball was last week’s announcement of a partnership the Quidel Corporation to provide rapid results antigen tests for COVID-19. Those tests are expected to be available on league campuses by the end of the month, allowing for the sort of immediate results that should prevent asymptomatic student-athletes who nonetheless test positive from entering competitive athletic arenas.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott described the agreement as a “game-changer” that might allow the league to return to official competition before its self-imposed Jan. 1 deadline.

“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction, no doubt about it,” Boyle said. “Getting more testing is hopefully going to be on every campus by the end of September. It’s a really positive sign.”

While Boyle’s Buffs watch and wait — the Division I Council meeting expected to address the college basketball season is set for Sept. 16 — the team continues to go through its allotted eight hours of team workouts per week in hopes of being prepared whenever they receive the green light.

“One thing I know about our players is they all want to play. They’ve all expressed that to me,” Boyle said. “We just have to be able to get the go-ahead. And when we get the go-ahead, I think we’ll be ready. It’s just such unusual times right now. We’re trying to make it as normal as possible for them, but it’s not normal.”