Some top coaches wanted a much later start, but the NCAA wasn't going to delay.
If Hall of Famers Rick Pitino, Mike Krzyzewski and others weary of playing during the pandemic had their way, the college basketball decisionmakers would've delayed the season's start and pushed back the postseason.
The NCAA tournament's branding of March Madness as the name of its premier event would take a break for a year — and the tournament would be known as May Madness or maybe Battle in the Bubble.
Pitino, the Hall of Fame coach now at Iona, argued publicly against playing nonconference games in November and December, hoping to keep his team safe. He also wanted to avoid the whole season getting shut down with COVID-19 numbers continuing to skyrocket across the country.
"Spiking and protocols make it impossible to play right now," Pitino, the former Louisville coach, tweeted 10 days before the Nov. 25 start to the season.
It's fair to question whether any games should've been played before January, even if that would have delayed Minnesota native Jalen Suggs from capturing the sport's imagination as the next big-time freshman.
With Suggs helping lead the way, Gonzaga has flexed its muscles as the nation's No. 1 team, hands down. Another top story line has been the Big Ten establishing itself as the most dominant conference in the country. So nonleague play did serve a purpose.
But in support of the case for delaying the season, look no further than the 13 teams that had not played a single game yet through Tuesday, including DePaul and eight of the 10 teams in the Patriot League. Forty-three out of 353 Division I teams had played three games or fewer, though only three of those were high-major programs.
The most alarming health situation with possible links to COVID-19 was Florida star Keyontae Johnson collapsing Dec. 12 vs. Florida State and being listed in critical condition. Johnson's recovery was heartwarming for the entire sports world and beyond, but the Gainesville Sun reported Wednesday he was diagnosed with a heart inflammation that might be related to coronavirus.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino disagrees but understands why folks like his father and Krzyzewski questioned if playing earlier was the right thing to do.
"The one thing we have to realize is if somebody [tests positive for COVID-19], it doesn't automatically mean they did something wrong," Richard Pitino said recently. "What we're trying to do is very, very difficult, but it beats the alternative.
"There's a lot of talk about don't play, push it back. My dad's been one of the most vocal guys about that. He has a pretty good opinion. I don't agree with it. But he's not crazy to think it. The bottom line is can we pull it off safely. It's not going to be competitively equitable."
The NCAA deciding to squeeze all of the tournament games into one city (Indianapolis) this season paints an obvious picture that the main goal is to salvage the cash cow that is March Madness. There won't be a May Madness because the NCAA can't do that and still get the billion dollar paycheck.
The only way to not have a repeat of last March's NCAA tourney's cancellation was to start in November and December and play as many games as possible. Teams can play a maximum of 27 games this season, and the minimum to be eligible for the postseason is currently 13.
College basketball's plan might be tweaked moving forward, much like football's was, with Ohio State finding a way to get into the College Football Playoff despite playing only six games.
But that's likely only if it benefits getting certain power conference programs into the NCAA tournament. And unfortunately for Rick Pitino, that means helping teams from leagues at his son's level, and not his.