Rooney: Pending college hoops plan could be welcome relief for sidelined CU Buffs

Decision expected Wednesday on structure of 2020-21 season

Colorado's Evan Battey drives on USC's Onyeka Okongwu during the February 20, 2020 game in Boulder.
(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Colorado’s Evan Battey drives on USC’s Onyeka Okongwu during the February 20, 2020 game in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

While a smattering of games kicked off last week, the college football season, such as it is, kicked off in earnest this weekend.

As the Pac-12 Conference continues to be sidelined until at least Jan. 1 (probably) and the Big Ten seesaws while facing pressure from some of its highest-profile coaches to rethink their fall postponement, teams from the ACC and Big 12 kicked off on Saturday, with the SEC getting ready for its kickoff in two weeks.

For better or worse, and with the coronavirus pandemic still breaking out on college campuses and scuttling games, college football is back.

It won’t be back soon enough for Buffaloes fans, though the Pac-12’s recent agreement with the Quidel Corporation to provide instant test results at least opens the door to hope the Buffs will back at Folsom Field before Jan. 1. The even better news from that Sept. 3 announcement? There is a good chance Buffaloes basketball — which has a much greater chance to compete for a Pac-12 title and a postseason berth than their football compatriots — is likely to be back in action before Jan. 1.

The plan for the basketball season is expected to be resolved on Wednesday during the latest NCAA Division I Council meeting. It has been widely reported the past few weeks the NCAA is looking at a start date for basketball among three dates in late November and early December, with a tip-off around Nov. 25 seemingly having the inside track.

Particularly in light of the disjointed schedule unfolding for college football, and the likely possibility of the Pac-12 being left out of whatever football championship scenario eventually unfolds, expect the league to fall in line with whatever plan the NCAA comes up with for basketball.

Basketball has an opportunity to get this right, and avoid the puzzle-with-half-the-pieces-missing situation that is the 2020 college football season. On Friday, Memphis paused all football activities after a coronavirus outbreak, putting its game next Friday at Houston in jeopardy. On Saturday morning, the Virginia-Virginia Tech game scheduled for next week was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.

Obviously the coronavirus will continue to call the shots, and even basketball cannot expect to resume without a hiccup or two along the way.  Yet given the sport’s ability (unlike football) to play multiple games in a relatively short window, even a few hiccups like a canceled game here or there can be much more easily built into the schedule. Here’s hoping whatever plan is unveiled this week by the NCAA includes that sort of flexibility.

For Buffs fans, any shortened or compromised basketball season would be a cruel blow. To take nothing away from the rabid fan base following the CU football program, or the enormous frustration the players must have felt Saturday while watching games from their couches, but the Buffs hardly were expected to compete for a Pac-12 title in Karl Dorrell’s first season. The men’s basketball team should have that opportunity.

McKinley Wright IV is getting ready for his senior season and will leave CU as one of the best four-year players in program history. Homegrown sharpshooter D’Shawn Schwartz is zeroing in on the 1,000-point mark for his career. The addition of Tulsa graduate transfer Jeriah Horne, the unleashing of redshirt freshman guard Keeshawn Barthelemy, and the influx of true freshmen Dominique Clifford, Luke O’Brien, Jabari Walker, and Tristan da Silva gives coach Tad Boyle a roster as deep as any team in the league.

It has been a unique sports bonanza in recent weeks, with the delayed NHL and NBA playoffs unfolding alongside the truncated MLB season as well as the kickoff of college football. The NFL is here, too. Cross your fingers for more. Come Wednesday, college basketball might officially be on deck.