With a growing number of colleges cancelling in-person plans as well as fall sports in response to COVID-19, questions will soon shift to the status of winter sports. Since experts believe there will be a significant increase in cases and deaths as flu season arrives and activities moving indoors amid colder weather, it is difficult to image a return to a normal world, much less a normal sports world, by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.
If there is no large-scale vaccine available or significant improvement in testing as previewed by Yale’s SalivaDirect COVID-19 test, winter teams, including men’s and women’s basketball, will not be permitted to play their traditional 4 1/2 month schedules (or 2 1/2 months in the Ivy League’s case).
Could something shorter and less traditional be done to allow college hoops to be played this winter?
The answer to that question is, of course, the “bubble,” which has been used with success in a number of professional sports (NWSL, MLS, WNBA, NBA and NHL) this summer. While requiring lots of planning, organization, commitment and money, this dynamic has allowed these sports to come back in the safest way possible.
In case these dire public health predictions come true and the necessary Ivy League stakeholders (athletes, athletes’ parents, conference officials, health experts and presidents) have an interest in pursuing a winter basketball season, here are my thoughts on a possible Ivy “bubble.”
Cornell’s last day of in-person instruction for the fall semester will be November 24 and spring semester in-person learning is scheduled for Feb. 9, which provides the league a large period of time with a de-densified space at the conference’s largest campus.
The school also has the league’s best COVID-19 testing resources, as the university received approval from New York State to develop a COVID-19 testing laboratory in the Animal Health Diagnostic Center as an on-campus viral testing laboratory.
Presently, Tompkins County has had a total of 234 cases of COVID-19 with a 0.6% positive testing rate. In case the numbers go up after students return later this month, school, county and state officials will hopefully move quickly to adjust the status of on-campus living and learning to prevent any excessive increase in positive cases and strain on the area’s medical system.
Time: December 27 – February 5
In December, those participants who are residing in states on New York’s quarantine list will need to quarantine in an acceptable state for 14 days before arriving in Ithaca on the 27th. (As of the writing of this article, all Ivy states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are not on New York’s list.)
Between December 21 and December 24, those planning on being a part of the “bubble” can be tested for COVID-19 and continue their quarantine. Those with negative results can travel to Cornell, while people who test positive will need to remain in place for isolation with a return after clearance by appropriate medical personnel, as well as team, school and league officials.
Echocardiograms, or EKGs, will need to be a part of the medical evaluations to rule out myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that is becoming a growing concern among younger people who had symptomatic or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.
When arriving at the university, people can be re-tested, examined by physicians and quarantined in one of the five spacious and modern West Campus dorms until they receive a negative result. Athletes and staff who test negative can move to the campus’s Statler Hotel, located about four blocks from Newman Arena, while other personnel can move to another of the West Campus dorms. Anyone who tests positive can move to third West Campus dorm for isolation.
(Without scholarships, Ivy rosters have, historically, been quite large. Limited hotel space, however, will require teams to limit rosters to 12.)
If necessary, anyone with severe symptoms can be transferred to Cayuga Medical Center, which is less than six miles from campus.
Additional testing and strict adherence to safety protocols will need to be done throughout the event. Seeing that there will be a large number of close contacts (six feet or less for more than 10 minutes) without masks, experts throughout the conference can decide if testing should be done every day or every other day.
Training: December 28 or 29 – January 2
Once people have been cleared and settled into their rooms, practices can begin at Newman Arena and Barton Hall, the present and past homes of Cornell basketball.
Regular Season: January 3 – January 27 (women), January 4 – January 8 (men)
With the need to end the event in the first week of February, any attempt at a 14-game schedule would require most games to be played every other day. Due to health and academic concerns for those whose spring semesters will have begun, this seems to be an unreasonable situation. As a result, the regular season will need to be a seven-game schedule with each team facing the other Ivy teams once.
This schedule will allow the two divisions to play every fourth day, which will hopefully allow the athletes to balance physical and academic issues.
The women will play four games on Jan. 3, 7, 11, 15, 19, 23 and 27 with the men playing their games on Jan. 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24 and 28. The schedule can be adjusted, slightly, if there are cancellations due to winter storms.
The games can all be played at Newman Arena with two afternoon and evening doubleheaders. If it is too difficult to have quadruple headers in one location, the games can be split between Newman and Barton.
Post-Season: January 31 – February 5
Due to the shortened regular season, the Ivy League Tournaments will need to be expanded to include all 16 teams.
For seeding purposes, existing conference tie-breaking rules can apply.
The women’s quarterfinals will be January 31, the semifinals on February 2 and the final on February 4. The men’s quarterfinals will be February 1, the semifinals on February 3 and the final on February 5. All games can be played at Newman Arena.
Like the first three Ivy Tournaments, the winners will be the league’s representatives for any possible NCAA Tournament (which may, itself, be looking at a “bubble”). If the #1 seeds do not win the conference tournaments, they will still be eligible to receive an automatic bid for the NIT Tournaments.