College basketball finally gets its start date

By Dylan Manfre

Let the countdown to college basketball begin.

After months of waiting and wondering what the fate of the 2020-2021 basketball season will look like, the NCAA and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) have provided some clarity on what to expect.

The NCAA announced on Sept. 16 that the first day games can be played is Nov. 25.

As far as the MAAC is concerned, here is what is known from the league’s announcement on Sept. 17.

There will be 20 MAAC games — enough for a round-robin — with games beginning on Dec. 8 for the men and Dec. 9 for the women. The week of Feb. 22 is a “blackout week” used for any makeup games should a regular-season game be postponed. No fans (including family members of players) will be in attendance until Dec. 23. The MAAC Tournament will take place Mar. 9 to Mar. 13 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“The creation of this scheduling model involved many moving pieces from multiple groups who are dedicated to seeing MAAC student-athletes return to action this season,” MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor said. “I commend everybody involved in the creation process, including the MAAC Council of Presidents, MAAC Committee on Athletic Administration (COAA), MAAC staff and the MAAC Basketball Working Group. Their hard work made this possible. We are ready and committed to providing a safe playing environment for our student-athletes as we navigate the evolving landscape and possible disruptions to the schedule caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ensor acknowledged the possibility of a “bubble” for parts of the season either in Albany, New York, or Atlantic City, New Jersey. The idea was ultimately shot down due to financial strain and the belief that schools could handle the situations better on their campuses which all reside in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“We looked at any number of options including bubbles. We had very deep conversations with Albany Convention Center about setting a bubble up in Albany with just the MAAC schools,” Ensor told The Rider News. “And a second option would be just us and the American East schools so you’d have another conference in the bubble. We also took a look at the Atlantic City convention center. At the end of the day, it was a fairly expensive enterprise and the schools felt they could better handle nonconference scheduling without utilizing a bubble.”

Nonconference play

Women’s basketball head coach Lynn Milligan said the team will play four nonconference games but did not reveal what teams they are against. She added that no opponent requires an overnight stay.

The women’s basketball team played nine nonconference games and had a senior-heavy roster last year. Playing the minimum of four games, she is not able to get a full view of the type of team she has to work with.

“It’s obviously more challenging this year just based on the limited amount of practice time we have now, and obviously we have a lot of new players on the roster this year,” Milligan said in her first in-person interview since March. “It makes it a little more challenging but we know the type of players we have and we know the type of talent we have. We just need to put them all together but we know the pieces are really good.”

Men’s basketball head coach Kevin Baggett said that the men’s basketball team will play five nonconference games. However, the highly-anticipated reunion with former All-MAAC forward and Bronc, Dimencio Vaughn against Ole Miss will likely not be played this season because of travel concerns.

MAAC Play

The 20 league games represent a traditional round-robin where each team will play everyone twice. There are three days in between each game to allow for testing results to come in.

Ensor, who is on the NCAA Division I women’s basketball oversight committee, said the NCAA is expected to release testing guidelines “by mid-October at the earliest.” This will determine how many times players need to get tested in a given week and if the NCAA or member institutions will need to bear the cost of securing the tests.

When asked how she feels about the Feb. 22 blackout week, Milligan laughed and said “I hope we’re off. I hope we don’t have any games.”

“That means things are going good. I think it’s a good idea. I think inevitably there’s going to be some games in the conference that won’t happen. So I think it’s smart to have that extra week because everyone wants to get their 20 conference games in to go into Atlantic City. Everybody with the same amount of playing opportunities.”

The MAAC announced the conference schedule on Sept. 22. The women’s basketball team will host Manhattan on Dec. 9 and the men’s basketball team will host rival Siena on Dec. 8.

Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on Rider basketball.

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