The best thing we can do when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic is learn and adjust. Good example: The early word was that masks weren't going to help much. That changed, and a lot of us bought in.
When it comes to big-time sports, we're learning what works and what doesn't. Forming bubbles — essentially safe zones where athletes don't leave and are tested often for the virus — seems to work quite well.
The NBA, WNBA and NHL have been humming along nicely in their various bubbles. Major League Baseball? Um, not so great. Some teams have had major disruptions from virus outbreaks.
The St. Louis Blues have played four NHL games in August, while the St. Louis Cardinals have played zero MLB games. That should tell you a lot about the weirdness of sports in 2020 but also the relative effectiveness of a bubble vs. no bubble.
Baseball is already talking about shifting to a bubble for the playoffs, which would be smart. If the NFL was smart, it would be pivoting to a bubble right now.
The assumption was that one of the particular challenges facing college sports was that a bubble environment isn't feasible.
The biggest reason: These are, ahem, student-athletes and as long as some schools are having some classes in-person it isn't possible to send athletes to a central location for months at a time just to play sports. That's doable for pros who are under contract, but not college athletes.
But in the wake of the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other smaller conferences postponing fall sports — including the big moneymaker college football — it appears as if the other big college sports cash cow, college basketball, is at least exploring the logistics of playing some sort of season in a bubble.
ESPN is reporting on a nonconference bubble idea that has been pitched to at least 50 programs. The Gophers are one of them, a source told the Star Tribune's Marcus Fuller.
Adam Zagoria reported at Forbes.com that the Big East is one of "several leagues" looking into the idea of a bubble for men's and women's basketball at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. — where the WNBA is having its season — or Omaha, home of league member Creighton.
One could imagine major conferences playing 16 to 20 league games in a bubble over two months, followed by a bubbled NCAA tournament — which as Gary Parrish notes at CBS Sports brings in nearly a billion dollars in ad revenue every year.
But how exactly would that work for the student part of student-athlete? Parrish offers this:
"Considering most regular students will be learning remotely anyway, there's no sensible reason student-athletes can't also learn remotely while playing the sport they're on scholarship to play. I mean, what's the difference between a college basketball player taking virtual classes from an apartment 2 miles from campus or a hotel 200 [or even 2,000] miles from campus?"
Yeah, I suppose. But what about students who are attending class in-person? Do they have to opt out? Not to mention that the COVID landscape might look better in four months, with more classes happening in person. It would make a mockery of academics and be a transparent money grab.
Still, the fact that this is at least being discussed regarding basketball is interesting.
It also makes one wonder if there could be momentum for a college football season in a bubble — say, during the 10 Saturdays starting two days after Thanksgiving and ending Jan. 30, when schools will be on break for a significant amount of time?
We'll find out soon enough to what lengths schools, conferences and associations are willing to go to in order to play these seasons and generate revenue.
"Randball" blogger Michael Rand is the digital sports senior writer for the Star Tribune.