Madison Square Garden is considering holding some fan-less college basketball games this season, including the Villanova-Virginia game originally scheduled for Dec. 19, sources said.

“MSG is looking into hosting games with no fans to help meet sponsor obligations for the building,” one industry source said.

The Garden — which has been dark since the pandemic shut down the Big East Tournament in mid-March — has already lost some college games, including some that will now take place in “Bubbleville” at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The Empire Classic, for example, was originally slated for the Garden Nov. 19-20 but will now take place at the Mohegan Sun Nov. 25-26 featuring Villanova, Baylor, Arizona State and Boston College.

What this might mean for the NBA remains unclear. The NBA is reportedly looking at starting the 2020-21 season sometime on or before Christmas, and it’s uncertain whether the Knicks would play games without any fans or with limited fans.

“We are continuing to work with the NBA and NHL, respectively, regarding the 2020-21 schedules and will provide our fans with more information as it becomes available,” according to a statement on the MSG website.

The last concert at the Garden with a packed house was an Allman Brothers Band tribute show on March 10 (which I attended). In retrospect, the concert was probably a super-spreader type event, as bass player Oteil Burbridge later said he got sick at about that time.

One night later, the Big East Tournament opened with fans before crowd restrictions were imposed for Thursday’s games. The tournament was canceled at halftime of the St. John’s-Creighton quarterfinal on Thursday.

Conditions in New York have improved tremendously since March and April, but there were 1,045 people hospitalized Friday in New York State, an increase of 22 people over Thursday, and the highest total since June. The numbers of cases and hospitalizations are surging nationally.

Through an MSG spokesman, Garden executive vice president Joel Fisher declined official comment on the upcoming college or NBA seasons.

As for the Big East Tournament, its status depends on if the Garden will be open come March. A league source said moving the tournament out of the Garden would be a “last resort.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright said the league is still weighing a bubble concept for the postseason but that the cost would be “exorbitant.”

“It’s obvious. if you want to ensure that you’re going to play every game, the only way to do it is bubble everybody,” Wright said this week. “And the doctors have told us, that’s the only way you can ensure you can play every game, which we’re not going to do for a number of reasons. And the Big East has looked at it, and [is] still looking at it for postseason, and maybe January and February, if necessary.

“But the costs are exorbitant. These are college kids, they’re not professionals. You really can’t demand that they go into a bubble. And if you do it for men’s, you gotta do it for women’s. So that doubles the cost, which the NBA did that also, but they’ve got the money to do it.”

He added: “We know we’re going to have some issues and I think the Big East is trying. We’re going to have a lot of games in December while everybody’s on break, while no one’s on campus. Hopefully you don’t have as much of a chance of getting infected because nobody’s around, so you can get some games in. Leave some space in January and February to make up games that you might’ve missed. That’s what we anticipate this season.”

Still, he said the odds of completing a full 25-game schedule were “50/50.” Both Villanova and Marquette have had to pause their practice schedules due to positive COVID tests. If teams test positive during the season, they could end up missing multiple games.

The NCAA East Regional is also slated for Barclays Center, which hasn’t held events since the pandemic, either.

Like everything else, it remains fluid how that will be handled.



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