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Shortened college basketball season? SEC discussing it, Rick Pitino recommends it

Dick Vitale also weighs in, suggesting a January start and other alterations because of the uncertainties of the coronavirus.
In this Feb. 21, 2018, file photo, Rick Pitino appears at a news conference in New York. Pitino was named coach at Iona in March. He suggests starting the next basketball season in January and playing only conference games because of the coronavirus.
In this Feb. 21, 2018, file photo, Rick Pitino appears at a news conference in New York. Pitino was named coach at Iona in March. He suggests starting the next basketball season in January and playing only conference games because of the coronavirus. [ SETH WENIG | AP ]
Published Jul. 2, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Going strictly by the calendar, there would be no 2020-21 college basketball season. Instead, there would be a 2021 college basketball season.

Former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino put that idea into the bulging suggestion box for the resumption of sports in the coronavirus era. He proposed via Twitter on Wednesday that the next college basketball season begin in January. A season contracted by the pandemic would have teams playing only league games.

A delayed start would “buy some more time for a vaccine and to get things under control,” he tweeted. “Although I can’t wait to be back on the sidelines, the health of my players and staff is what’s really important.”

Pitino, who will be in his first season as Iona coach in 2020-21 (or just 2021), did not break new ground with that.

Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, now a consultant to the SEC, said he had discussed a January start — and many other ideas — with Dan Leibovitz, the SEC’s associate commissioner for men’s basketball.

“I think everything’s on the table,” Tranghese said. “I think everything has to be on the table. You know, the problem is nobody knows where we’re headed.”

First things first. The next football season “consumed” officials in various conferences, Tranghese said.

As for basketball, the metaphorical ground continually shifting makes it impossible for the SEC to be confident in any plan.

“Danny Leibovitz and I have talked about a lot of things regarding basketball,” Tranghese said. “The question, though, is will things be better in January than they are in November? Who knows?”

Tranghese said he found it difficult to believe a 2020-21 (or just 2021) college basketball season would be played if schools do not re-open.

“The easy answer is a vaccine, obviously,” Tranghese said. “What Rick says, I think everything is on the table.

“And — you know what? — not everybody may do the same thing. Some conferences may elect just to play conference schedules. Others may elect to play who knows? There’s nobody in charge who can say this is what we’re doing.”

ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale went on social media earlier in the week and proposed something similar to Pitino’s suggestion.

Vitale called for a shortened season that starts in January, playing only conference games on a two-per-week basis followed by conference and NCAA Tournaments.

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“You’ve got to have March Madness,” he said. “We can’t go two years in a row without it.”

A January start in a season confined to only conference games would mean a reduction in travel. But it also would mean none of the made-for-television games of November and December. Those games are lucrative in terms of revenue and marketing of programs.

“I think safety is the overriding factor, period, end of discussion, in my mind,” Tranghese said.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey agrees with the idea of safety being the top priority, the consultant said. “I know Greg has said that to me on a number of occasions: whatever we do, student-athletes have to be protected.”

With rates of coronavirus infection rising in several states, a college basketball season in the 2020-21 school year seems less than certain.

When asked what odds he’d put on some type of college basketball season being played during the 2020-21 school year, Tranghese paused before responding.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m nervous about it.”

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