The NCAA is considering four potential start dates for the 2020-21 men's and women's college basketball seasons, sources told CBS Sports, with two dates having gained the most traction leading into significant voting decisions in the coming week.
Nov. 25 and Dec. 4 are at this point considered the preferred dates. One source indicated to CBS Sports that Nov. 25 has a slight edge over Dec. 4.
The NCAA provided a timeline document to conference commissioners late last week, obtained by CBS Sports, that details the review and approval process on starting the forthcoming season. Sources said NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt communicated to conference commissioners late last week these four initial timelines:
First practices allowed: Sept. 29
First day of season: Nov. 10 (No change to start of season)
First practices allowed: Oct. 9
First day of season: Nov. 20
First practices allowed: Oct. 14
First day of season: Nov. 25
First practices allowed: Oct. 24
First day of season: Dec. 4
Sources told CBS Sports the NCAA's men's basketball oversight committee and the men's basketball selection committee are held separate meetings Wednesday to discuss these potential start dates, among other action items. On Thursday, Division I conference commissioners will held meeting to discuss the basketball season, as did the NABC. On Friday, the women's basketball committee and the Women's Basketball Coaches Association will convene and seek feedback on the recommended models as well.
The review process will include feedback on issues ranging from different start-of-season options, the latest recommended models being shared with the NCAA's COVID-19 Medical Advisory board, plus myriad logistical questions, concerns and curiosities that exist with nonconference scheduling.
A tentative meeting between the men's and women's oversight committees is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 31. It's hoped a clearer decision can be made at that meeting on a realistic start date for 2020-21. The NCAA is targeting the first week of September to settle on a model -- or models, if necessary -- to bring to the Division I Council.
A vote on the season's start date is scheduled to be made on Sept. 16 by the D-I Council. (Approval from the oversight committees for men's and women's basketball would precede the D-I Council vote.) The NCAA is also tentatively planning for an Oct. 13 and/or 14 meeting with the Division I Council to approve any necessary tweaks or changes to the schedule if enough has happened between Sept. 16 and Oct. 13 to mandate updates to college basketball's season.
"The first thing to understand is when you're going to play the tournament -- start from the end," one source said. "If you're going to try to play the tournament in March, what does that look like? How many games in the regular season? If you move it to May, more [teams] have a chance to participate, there's more equity around the board."
One conference commissioner expressed high confidence that the NCAA would do anything and everything not only to hold the NCAA Tournament in 2021, but to also keep it at its usual size of 68 teams. And many sources in recent days told CBS Sports that there is still a willingness, at this point, to try and start college basketball's season on time. Athletic directors around the country are still embracing this as an option, while many basketball coaches have, behind the scenes, long assumed this was not going to be achievable.
One source joked that putting a 1% chance on the season starting on Nov. 10 "may be high."
Another source said they would be surprised if college basketball's season ultimately doesn't start a couple of days before or after Thanksgiving. The reason being: campuses would be mostly empty, allowing for games to be held there without crowds and much less risk of coronavirus transmission.
"That has a ton of momentum," the source said.
The January-start option is still on the table, but is unlikely to be seriously addressed until the fall, one source said. The NCAA, and college basketball's stakeholders, continue to diligently try and communicate without over-promising, so there are plans made four or six weeks in advance -- and not two weeks or three months.
A big factor in this timeline for the NCAA and conference commissioners and university presidents is the widespread opening of colleges across the country in the next two weeks. How will the United States be affected with the coronavirus in this way? Multiple high-profile D-I institutions, such as North Carolina and Notre Dame, have seen immediate negative effects of COVID-19 transmission less than a week after students moved into dormitories.
"They're trying to be transparent with everyone, given the lack of a central figure and central decision making with major football," another conference commissioner told CBS Sports. "They're trying to take some of the feedback and criticism that's existed in that sport and trying to be more transparent with basketball decision-making."
One more factor to consider, per one league commissioner: the success, or lack thereof, with college football being played this fall. If it can be done, it improves college basketball's chances of starting in November.