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USATSI

NCAA president Mark Emmert on Thursday discussed the potential of moving toward "bubble or semi-bubble models" to conduct its championships, the first hint at such a move from the governing body of college athletics that could pave the way for a safer reintroduction of athletics amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If we modify the model, shrink bracket sizes, do everything in pre-determined sites, instead of running kids around the country … move toward bubbles or semi-bubble models," Emmert said. "There's a way to do it. Will it be normal? Of course not. Will it create other conflicts and challenges? Of course. But is it doable? Yeah. We want to make it work for these students."

Emmert specifically mentioned volleyball and soccer as potential sports that would benefit from the bubble or semi-bubble model, but his injection of optimism came in the same announcement that the NCAA will not hold championships this fall in those sports because of the pandemic and the lack of participation it has produced. In total, 22 championships, including FCS football, are affected by the decision.

"We cannot now, at this point, have fall NCAA championships, because there's not enough schools participating," Emmert said. "The Board of Governors said if you don't have half of the schools playing a sport, you can't have a legitimate championship. We can't in any Division I NCAA championship sport now, which is everything other than FBS football that goes on in the fall. Sadly, tragically, that's going to be the case this fall, full stop."

Emmert emphasized that "the highest priority" will be given to winter and spring sports "because they lost their championships last March." Those sports include basketball, baseball and hockey.

"We have to protect those spaces," he said.

It's unclear if football will proceed without the Big Ten and the Pac-12, who earlier this week announced they are postponing fall sports seasons, but the FBS is conducted through the College Football Playoff Committee, not the NCAA. That leaves NCAA basketball -- and more specifically, March Madness -- as the looming question of concern on the NCAA's agenda. And to that point, Emmert offered up a vague hint at what the NCAA may be considering.

"Starting with 64 teams is tough," Emmert said of the regular NCAA Tournament format. "Thirty-two, OK, maybe that's a more manageable number." 

How would a 32-team format look, you ask? Quite a bit different. Matt Norlander laid out potential scenarios here, but an all-auto-bid 32-team tournament makes things spicy. Or you could get real weird, and go with an all-at-large bid 32-team format.

The NCAA Tournament format changed to a 64-team bracket in 1985 and has expanded to a 68-team tournament since, with two elimination games played in advance of the Round of 64 to whittle down the field from 68 to 64 teams.