The number and dynamic of the Thanksgiving college basketball tournaments in Southwest Florida are growing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the college basketball season scheduled to start Nov. 25, a total of 36 college basketball teams – 20 men, 16 women – could play in the area between Nov. 25 and Nov. 29. However, there’s a good chance fans won’t see most, if any, of the teams because of COVID-19 safety protocols.
The Fort Myers Tip-Off Tournament held at Suncoast Arena, lost Wisconsin, a preseason top-15 team, as well as Butler and Colorado from its original field. Organizers are working to find replacements as only South Florida remains.
Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, has been working the phones to bring in other schools for the tournament set to broadcast on FS1. Last year’s tournament included Pittsburgh, Northwestern, Bradley and Kansas State.
“Organizers for the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off continue to prepare for and will explore all opportunities to host the Tournament,” Intersport said in a statement. “Final details for the event, such as tournament dates and matchups, will be announced at a later date.”
Meanwhile, Brooks Downing — who runs both the Gulf Coast Showcase and Island of Bahamas Showcase — has been working to keep four tournaments in Southwest Florida.
From Nov. 25-27, there will be two men’s tournaments, the Gulf Coast Showcase at Hertz Arena and the Island of Bahamas Showcase, which moved to the Community School of Naples.
From Nov. 27-29, the Gulf Coast Showcase women’s tournament will be played at FGCU with the Eagles playing in the event.
“We’ll continue to have the best women’s event in the country,” Downing said.
There also will be two, four-team women’s tournaments played on Nov. 28 and 29 at Community School of Naples.
“We’re still a go,” he said. “We’re still in the process of collecting some contracts. Some have gone away but we’re getting teams to replace them. It’s not easy.”
Downing said there was a late push to start the season on Nov. 21, which would’ve made scheduling much easier.
However, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said two factors played a role in Nov. 25 being chosen: testing and about 75 percent of Division I schools will either be done with the fall semester or will have moved to online instruction after the Thanksgiving holiday and online exams by that date.
What has happened since the Nov. 25 date announcement is a large percentage of Power Five conferences – Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC and SEC – want to hold their own events, Downing said.
“I think that’s short-sighted and could bring liability issues,” Downing said. “If a team has an outbreak while there, it’s shut down and you lose games. We’re offering men’s and women’s teams the opportunity to get games if there’s a worse-case scenario. We can reconfigure and we can pair teams up.”
Downing added that some teams like East Carolina, coached by former FGCU coach Joe Dooley, may stay in Southwest Florida and play games after the tournaments end. However, due to a 14-day quarantine in the Northeast, Downing lost Iona and Rick Pitino, Vermont and Fordham on the men’s side for the Gulf Coast Showcase.
Because of the later starting date, team schedules have been reduced. For men’s basketball, teams can compete in a maximum of 25 regular-season games if a team doesn’t participate in a multiple-team event; 25 regular-season games and one multiple-team event that includes up to two games or 24 regular-season games and one multiple-team event that includes up to three games.
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In women’s basketball, teams can compete in a maximum of 25 regular-season games if a team doesn’t compete in a multiple-team event or 23 regular-season games and one multiple-team event that includes up to four games.
So while the men’s non-conference schedule has some great one-on-one matchups like Gonzaga-Baylor, Baylor-Villanova, Gonzaga-Iowa, Florida-Virginia, Kentucky-Kansas, Duke-Michigan State, some tournaments have been victims.
Some other big college tournaments have had to move because of the pandemic. The Cayman Islands Classic moved to Niceville, the Battle 4 Atlantis relocated from the Bahamas to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the Maui Invitational moved to Asheville, N.C. Multiple other events are sprouting up across the country, with Orlando, Connecticut, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Houston and Indianapolis serving as host locations.
“There always will be a need for (multiple team events) with the way rules are written,” Downing said. “Teams want to play the maximum games. If you play 31 in a normal year but only can get 29, that’s two less chances to get to 20 wins, which is a standard benchmark for getting into the NCAA Tournament.”