With the uncertainties COVID-19 has brought to sports, one thing is certain: This upcoming college basketball season will be different.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still playing a major role in life, college sports have had to make major adjustments. While football — mainly at the FBS level — is competing this fall, many fall sports at the mid-major level were pushed to the spring in hopes that coronavirus cases would be lower across the board.
How will college basketball work?
An idea floated around is conferences using the “bubble” environment that’s used in professional leagues like the NBA, NHL and WNBA. It means that one or more schools would host a group of conference members and they’d play a certain amount of games and then potentially rotate so every team can play one another.
On Sept. 15, Shane Mettlen of the Daily News-Record wrote a story unveiling that there had been early talks of a “CAA bubble” being hosted at JMU. While the non-conference slate will likely be altered for all Division-I teams for men’s and women’s basketball, the idea of a conference bubble is one that requires intricate details when planning, while also taking into account the outlook of how the pandemic is affecting the school’s area.
In the article, CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio lists a few key areas that will be used to evaluate potential sites. It includes testing capabilities, lodging availability, amount of basketball courts and the statistics of COVID-19 in the university’s surrounding city or county. D’Antonio also mentions the potential use of outside arenas if needed.
JMU is the ideal location for the CAA bubble, and it’s not close
The brand new Atlantic Union Bank Center was set to host fans this year, but it won’t begin the new era of JMU basketball with the passion of the Dukes faithful. However, that shouldn’t stop the arena from being showcased as one of the premier facilities in the CAA. It holds the main court and an auxiliary gym, on top of the still-standing Convocation Center that has the ability to host games as well. Godwin Hall and the University Recreation Center have multiple courts, meaning teams will have the ability to practice safely.
With two gyms ready to host games and more than enough practice courts, JMU is more than capable of hosting what will be the dramatically different conference games. Another aspect JMU and Harrisonburg succeeds in is lodging. With numerous hotels scattered across the city as well as Hotel Madison being readily available — and usually the choice for visiting teams in recent years — players, coaches, staff, referees and CAA officials will be able to be hosted for however long the conference decides.
Questions remain in the Shenandoah Valley
There are still questions surrounding the safety of having the bubble in the Shenandoah Valley, with the main concern being the amount of cases in the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County area. According to the CDC, as of Tuesday, Harrisonburg is +16.9% in 14-day new cases. For Rockingham County, the two-week new case rate is +11.7%.
According to The Breeze’s Coronavirus Dashboard, the University Health Center has had a 28.64% positivity rate since Aug. 17. With classes set to resume in hybrid form Oct. 5, conference officials will analyze how cases will fluctuate. If cases continue to increase, the CAA will have to look elsewhere to make sure the bubble will be held in a safe environment.
While factors like how strict the quarantine rules would be are still to be determined, the opportunity to be the host of CAA basketball — whether it be men’s or women’s — is ideal for JMU.
If fans aren’t able to attend the new $86.7 million arena, having some or all of the teams competing and breaking in the new court will give the Dukes exposure. It’ll also magnify the facilities JMU has to offer that make it the premier school in the CAA.
With a new head coach, a dramatically different team and a fan base eager to start a new chapter in JMU men’s basketball, the CAA bubble would have many positive aspects. If the women’s conference season is played in Harrisonburg, it’ll give head coach Sean O’Regan the chance to garner another CAA regular season title and his first conference tournament title.
Whatever the CAA decides to do regarding basketball, it’ll be complex. It’ll require intense planning and strict guidelines, but it’ll also depend on the environment in each respective area that the conference is looking at. JMU would benefit from hosting a bubble, and it’s more than capable of doing so.
Contact Noah Ziegler at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.