Richard Pitino isn’t giving up hope on the Gophers’ nonconference schedule just yet. His Big Ten coaching peers still are pushing for theirs as well.
The Big Ten postponed fall sports last week for safety concerns during the pandemic, but there is still time to decide when the college basketball season will start.
“I know all the Big Ten coaches are on board with pushing forward and trying to get something done,” Pitino said.
The Gophers men’s nonconference schedule has not been officially released. But according to a data obtained by the Star Tribune, nine nonconference games already have signed contracts, including the Hall of Fame Tip-Off in Uncasville, Conn. A home game with St. Louis is agreed on but the schools are waiting to see what their schedules will be.
The total amount the Gophers owe in these contracts is $535,000, which includes home games vs Kent State, Fort Wayne, North Dakota and Wisconsin-Green Bay. It’s common practice in college football and basketball sports for power conference programs to pay schools from smaller conferences for nonconference matchups, sealing the details with signed contracts.
The pandemic has brought a different dynamic to scheduling, but the fine print in the contracts say the Gophers wouldn’t be responsible financially if these games are canceled because of circumstances beyond the schools’ control.
A Nov. 5 exhibition game with Concordia (St. Paul) has already has been canceled. But among the Gophers’ nonconference games are the Nov. 11 opener against Albany, and then a Nov. 17 home game vs. Long Island. The Gophers then play two games in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, Nov. 21 against Central Florida and the next day against either Rhode Island or Marquette.
A spokesperson for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off said organizers still are planning on hosting the tournament but will not have tickets on sale until a later date, if at all.
“We are confident in our venue and the measures that have been taken to produce a safe environment and have contingency plans in mind should adjustments be needed,” the Hall of Fame Tip-Off statement read. ‘‘We are also mindful that the decision could ultimately be out of our control.”
The Gophers’ contract for their Dec. 16 home game vs. Mississippi State was amended in March to include cancellation without penalty if there is a university, conference or NCAA mandate related to COVID-19.
The Pac-12 already has decided not to play sports until Jan. 1. The Ivy League leaders voted to get rid of nonconference play all together this year. Those were signs pointing to league-only schedules throughout college basketball this season.
NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt released a statement Monday that said a decision will come in mid-September on when to start the season, with Nov. 10 the original plan.
Pitino said every Big Ten coach agrees testing needs to be “very, very strict and uniform” with all of their opponents in order to feel safe to play.
“It gets very, very complicated when you’re playing [nonconference opponents] where you don’t necessarily know what [testing protocol] they’re doing,” Pitino said. “They may be doing it right; you don’t know. That’s why you’re not sure about the nonconference portion of it thus far. But it’s only the middle of August. We still have time.”