The Sport Effect

Erik Martin’s college basketball bubble: Is it possible?

The world of college athletics seems to live in between a rock and a hard place these days, and Erik Martin is the most recent person vocalizing a potential way out.

Football is currently at the forefront of the coronavirus pandemic, but the possibility of a canceled college basketball season could be on the table sooner rather than later.

The West Virginia assistant coach proposed that the Big 12’s 10 teams could enter into a bubble in Kansas City, home of the yearly conference tournament. Each team would play one game followed by two days off, repeating until each team had played six games.

Teams would return to campus after those six games, spending two weeks on campus for academics, before ultimately repeating the cycle two more times — totaling 18 games and spanning three months.

On the surface, it seems like a very reasonable proposal. But, is it doable?

One of the more eye-opening things here is travel costs, and it seems likely that West Virginia will save a hefty amount of money by going to a bubble. This would go for all of the conference’s teams, but obviously means much more to the Mountaineers as the closest conference foe to Morgantown is more than 800 miles away.

For perspective, the West Virginia men’s basketball team spent slightly more than $1.9 million on team travel during the 2019 fiscal year — $300,000 more than football.

On the other side, there will be costs that are created due to COVID-19. According to a contract obtained detailing the agreement between West Virginia University and Quest Diagnostics regarding coronavirus testing, each test costs the university $85. While it may not seem like a ton of money, it could add up quickly due to the frequency of testing.

Given that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a 10-day period for quarantining, time could also be an issue. Martin proposes two-week cycles, which could be rendered useless if multiple players from a team return positive tests. That doesn’t account for the time needed for testing, which could back up due to increased samples.

With the success of the NBA, as well as the struggles of the MLB, the bubble method has proven to be one that can be effective if done right.

Along with the safety and wellbeing of student-athletes, the amateurism of collegiate athletes sits on the other side of a scale hoping not to tumble either way. Moving student-athletes into a bubble would obviously raise concerns over the special treatment of athletes, a gray area that the NCAA often tries to avoid.

As we’ve seen over the past few months, the situation is incredibly fluid; in the past week alone, it’s been pure chaos on the gridiron. Yet, at least having the discussion means that some people are eyeing a return to the court (or field) in the near future.