MISSOULA — It will be an interesting season of college basketball.
Travis DeCuire is confident a season will be played and finished, which would have been something close to an unthinkable question to even consider a year ago this time. The pandemic, of course, has thrown much into disarray, but there is a belief there will be March Madness this season.
"It'll get pulled off," DeCuire said. "The question is, will the average games played be 13 or 14 as opposed to 25 to 27? I think there'll be a ton of cancellations, I don't think there's one team in the country that's going to get through the season without a cancellation.
"But we'll get through it. The NCAA wants to have a tournament."
Montana has been officially practicing since Wednesday, the season is allowed to begin Nov. 25 and the Big Sky released its revised (for the second time) schedule Thursday.
As of Friday, there had been 263 COVID-19 cases on campus with 69 currently active. Some of those cases have been connected to Grizzly student-athletes, including basketball players. It's a similar story at colleges and universities around the country.
Pulling off a season will be hard, especially with the amount of travel involved. Four, and perhaps all five of the non-conference games UM will play, will likely be payout games, meaning they will have to be on the road. Four of those games are settled and done, and one of those will likely be against Arizona.
Montana has 20 total Big Sky Conference games, including dual Thursday-Saturday road games against Southern Utah, Sacramento State, Portland State. They will split a home and away game with Eastern Washington and Montana State.
The same format will be in play for Montana's scheduled home games, which will be against Northern Colorado, Northern Arizona, Weber State and Idaho.
In order to be considered for the NCAA tournament, a school needs to play 13 games. This allows for a school to miss around 12 contests due to either them or the team they will be playing missing a game due to contract tracing or positive tests.
"They're going to have as many games as they need to have to get to that tournament in my opinion," DeCuire said. "Knowing that, we just need to stay ahead of the game and we've got to do what we need to do to play in enough games to qualify for any opportunities that could be out there for our conference."
Basketball, like football, is considered a high-risk contact sport in regards to spread of the coronavirus according to the Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Basketball, an NCAA document that was put online for usage by schools. A recent CDC report on the spread of the disease at an indoor ice hockey rink reached the conclusion that indoor sporting events can be epicenters for spread.
In that report, 14 of the 22 players playing in the game ended up testing positive. If that were two basketball teams, it would be weeks before either team could play again, causing issues with scheduling for other schools.
Coaches know this, and the Big Sky Conference certainly knows this, which is part of the reason the schedule is the way it is. The turnarounds between the Thursday-Saturday games will be tight, but it will give the opportunity for teams to perhaps sneak in a couple more games.
This entire season is going to be about getting to that magical 13-game mark. Do that, and a school will have a chance to get to March Madness. Get there and the basketball team might help its school's athletic budget with the extra money getting to the NCAA men's basketball tournament brings in during a time when schools are cutting sports due to lack of funding.
It's certainly going to be a very different year of college basketball.