College basketball season will start Nov. 25, but hurdles remain for UCLA and USC

The college basketball season will open Nov. 25, with or without UCLA and USC.

The NCAA’s Division I council on Wednesday approved that start date, but it remained unclear whether teams such as the Bruins and Trojans that face stiffer government health restrictions than many of their Pac-12 Conference counterparts would be cleared to play by that time.

Pac-12 teams are expected to acquire rapid daily testing for COVID-19 before the end of September, potentially allowing them to move up the Jan. 1 timeline that was previously established as the earliest date that any conference team could play. UCLA and USC also must receive government clearance to practice indoors and commence full-contact practices before they can begin preparations for the season.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced Wednesday that California Gov. Gavin Newsom had lifted state restrictions on practices and games, shifting the burden for clearance onto county health officials.

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The NCAA council also established a 13-game minimum for NCAA tournament eligibility and set a Sept. 21 start date for workouts that would be limited to 12 hours per week before practices could begin on Oct. 14. Men’s and women’s teams will be allowed to play as many as 27 regular-season games, including a recommendation for at least four nonconference games.

Teams will not be permitted to hold scrimmages or exhibitions before opening the season as part of measures intended to lower potential spread of the novel coronavirus.

UCLA players returned to campus for viral testing on Tuesday and will be allowed to start outdoor strength and conditioning and weightlifting Monday. Bruins men’s coach Mick Cronin estimated that his team would need between six and eight weeks from that point to be ready to play a game, putting it on track to be prepared for the Nov. 25 start date should it receive clearance.

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“The new season start date near the Thanksgiving holiday provides the optimal opportunity to successfully launch the basketball season,” NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “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.”

Should the Pac-12 fail to align the start of its season with the rest of the NCAA, it could impact the number of nonconference games the Bruins play and what their NCAA tournament resume might look like. Cronin noted that a team piling up nonconference victories could have a significantly different record than one playing exclusively within its conference.

“It’s not going to be a normal year,” Cronin said. “So the eye test, common sense, is going to have to come into play whenever Selection Sunday does come around.”

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In a separate development, the NCAA council barred Division I teams from holding practices or games on the first Tuesday after Nov. 1 each year so that its athletes could vote. The council also extended the recruiting dead period that prohibits in-person visits through Dec. 31.

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