If you’re a college basketball fan looking for assurances from on high, now isn’t a bad time to hear from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“We’re going to have March Madness,” he said Wednesday on a Zoom call with reporters.
That felt like a needed sense of assurance on a day when COVID cases are escalating across the country, Wisconsin football is temporarily shutting down its program after a single game and teams are scrambling to fill holes in their schedules created when ESPN canceled the multi-team tournaments it had been planning for a “bubble” environment in Orlando.
The rest of college basketball still is figuring itself out, less than a month from the declared Nov. 25 starting date issued by the NCAA. The Big East released its December schedule of league games, but not a full slate; teams will play four conference games before Christmas at home sites. Most other major leagues have not released even that much of a schedule.
“There is no ‘regular season.’ From the very start, this was looked at as a time where we have a pandemic and there’s not going to be a regular season — the way we’ve had it,” Krzyzewski said. “So the NCAA got a starting date, and they have an ending date. Nothing against them, but that’s the main thing they’re concerned about.
“And then it really goes up to the conferences to figure it all out.”
Krzyzewski said although he is certain that there will be an NCAA Tournament staged in some form, it is unclear to him how teams will qualify for the field. Ideally, it would be a full 68-team tournament, but even if it is, it will be a challenge to determine which teams belong.
“We don’t know a lot of things, but we know we’re going to have March Madness, we know we’re going to have a regular season. We just don’t know much about both,” he said. “It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.”
Asked about the logistics of staging the tournament, Krzyzewski answered, “There are none. I’m sure there will be, but even how you would choose — the selection committee has no idea of what they’ll do right now. Nothing against them. How can they? So let’s just keep navigating.”
Krzyzewski gave credit to deputy athletic director Jon Jackson, who has been working furiously to confront the challenges of working to complete a schedule in this circumstance.
The coach was critical of the NCAA plan that allows teams to play 27 games if they compete in a multi-team tournament, fewer if they do not. He said they should simply have allowed all teams to play 27 games in whatever format.
Ironically, the multi-team tournament exception almost certainly was a nod to ESPN, which operates eight such events and televises several others.
“It’s a changing landscape,” Krzyzewski said. “In the military, we call it being ‘agile leaders’ — the ability to show agility. And when you show agility, you should also show creativity. And since we’re on a lot of those “tees,” we should have sensitivity.
“That’s the key thing in all of this, the sensitivity to the kids playing the game, and making sure it’s a safe environment and that everyone’s doing it the same way medically. I’m all for that.”