Is Notre Dame Basketball in trouble amid the pandemic?

The major talk right now is whether or not there will be a college football season, but is the Notre Dame basketball season in just as much jeopardy?

With several Power 5 conferences announcing that they won’t be playing out of conference football games in 2020, while several small conferences cancelling sports entirely, it’s clear that Notre Dame Football has a lot of questions surrounding it. It makes sense that the concern falls here, as Notre Dame has no conference games and football is the next major college sport to start. However, it’s worth thinking ahead to how COVID-19 could affect basketball season.

The first thing to remember is why out of conference games were cancelled by conferences like the B1G 10, not all conferences can test at the same level. The power five conferences can test at a higher rate, and have better access to treatments than the group of five schools. Because of this, and the general lack of standardization in testing of athletes in the NCAA, they feel it’s safer to only play conference games.

Now, here’s the reality. College basketball starts playing games in early November. That’s just two months after the scheduled start of college football season, and that’s if football can start on time.

If it’s not safe to play football in November, why would it be safe to play basketball?

Furthermore, if out of conference football games needed to be cancelled, so do out of conference basketball games. In fact, even conferences that have yet to cancel out of conference games in football will likely need to in basketball.

For one, this buys time to get the pandemic under control. Secondly, and perhaps more realistically, this keeps in stride with conference’s feelings that testing should be uniform.

In many ways, no out of conference games is college basketball’s most optimistic outlook.

More realistically, testing college basketball players is almost impossible. Even if you are able to test players frequently, how do you isolate them to assure that they don’t contract the disease after being tested?

Over the course of an entire season, it’s impossible. You won’t be able to prevent every player, from all 353 Division I teams, from going out between their test and the game. It’s not realistic, especially because most teams will need to test before every game.

Take a look at the AAC’s football testing standards, which they announced Thursday:

They will be testing, and presumably isolating, players for three days before football games. That’ll be hard enough, but doing it in basketball, where teams play multiple games a week; impossible. Not just impossible, unethical. These are students, who need to attend class, go to the dining halls, and live in dorms. These are students, and unpaid athletes, unlike those NBA players who have entered the Orlando Bubble. Forcing them to spend a year in isolation, so they can play a sport and make TV revenue for universities is an admission that they’re an asset to universities who need to be paid.

It’s simply not realistic.

However, let’s say, despite all of this, there is a 2020-21 season in its normal form. Maybe, mid-fall, there’s a vaccine or cases become almost non-existent. How do you practice? In what would be the best case scenario, where we are safe to play basketball in November, you’re already looking at months of isolation to practice properly.

That won’t happen, and will give teams issues with their communication and stamina.

It is this, the lack of practice, which will hurt Notre Dame the most. The Irish don’t need a tough out of conference schedule. They have the ACC. They don’t need the money from fans in the stands and games on TV, at least not as much as most other programs.

Notre Dame basketball needs practice, especially for the women’s team as they move into the post-Muffet McGraw era.

McGraw, a two time National Champion coach, had been at Notre Dame since 1987. In the best of circumstances, she’s nearly impossible to replace. In the current circumstances, where doing little things like adding plays or changing the culture to fit your style as a coach, it’s not realistic to expect any success.

This unenviable task has fallen to Niele Ivey. Ivey, who played for McGraw at Notre Dame, would likely like to keep a lot of the culture in place. However, she does need to set herself apart from McGraw to succeed as her successor. That’s going to be a slower process now. Add in this being Ivey’s first head coaching job, and the questions are huge for the Notre Dame women’s team, only exacerbated by a lack of practice.

The men are luckier, as they still have longtime head coach Mike Brey in place. They don’t need to figure out who they are going forward. They do need practice to develop depth, which was sorely missed last season.

Next: Could the ACC play games in smaller pods this season?

At the end of the day, it’s not just Notre Dame being affected by all of this, but the Irish certainly are being hurt by the current circumstances in more sports than football.