On the same day that the Big Ten announced its plans to reverse course and play a fall football season, the NCAA Division I Council met to discuss the start date for college sports’ other money maker: basketball.
The governing body announced that both the men’s and women’s 2020-21 basketball season would begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving and 15 days after its originally scheduled start date of Nov. 10.
It’s an important step towards ensuring not only that athletes get a full basketball season — the 2020 season was cut short due to the onset of COVID-19 in March — but that the NCAA and its member schools receive the lucrative payout that the men’s March Madness tournament rakes in every year.
“It is a grand compromise of sorts and a unified approach that focuses on the health and safety of student-athletes competing towards the 2021 Division I basketball championships,” NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said in the statement.
The start date was chosen so that schools could further control the environments for their athletes, as 75% of Division I schools will not have non-athlete students on campus by then, the announcement said.
Because of the Nov. 25 start date, both men’s and women’s teams can play a maximum of 27 games, four fewer games than the original maximum. This could mean that teams will play fewer non-conference games in particular, which usually serve as cash cows for schools. The new date could also encourage free-for-all in independent non-conference tournaments, organized by individual schools. To be eligible for March Madness, schools must play a minimum of 13 games, half of the original minimum. Official preseason practices can begin on Oct. 14.
The NCAA needs to find a way to hold the Division I men’s basketball tournament, as it’s crucial for the financial health of the governing body, two experts told Front Office Sports.
The NCAA’s contract with CBS and Turner for tournament media rights pays out $10.8 billion over 14 years, from 2011 to 2024, according to a previous NCAA statement. The most recent contract extension with CBS and Turner, extending the deal for eight years into 2032, will pay out another $8.8 billion.
The NCAA received $867.5 million of those TV and marketing rights for men’s March Madness in 2018-19, which it funnels down to member schools. But the body took a major hit this past spring when COVID-19 canceled the tournament. As a result, the NCAA sent about $375 million less than was expected to Division I programs.
The NCAA hasn’t made announcements regarding specific schedules or safety protocols.