Okay, stick with me for a second, because we have to uncoil levels of NCAA bureaucracy here.
Back last Wednesday, which was September 23, the NCAA Division 1 Council gave their thumbs up to a variety and plethora of plans to officially move the 2020 fall sports seasons to the spring of 2021. This is, however, not officially done yet, because this thumbs up is merely an official recommendation which has to be signed off on by the Division 1 Board of Directors which is supposed to happen sometime this week.
Confused yet? I hope so, because then we’re all in the same boat together.
Let’s be honest: The likely thing to happen here is that the Board of Directors is just going to rubber stamp the proposals from the Division 1 Council. This is almost assuredly the official plan to establish the spring competition season for the student athletes that lost their seasons in the fall when more than 50% of participating teams cancelled/postponed their schedules due to the still continuing and ongoing coronavirus pandemic in the United States, thus causing the NCAA to cancel the national championships. It’s just that it’s not the officially official plan yet.
Let’s get into the weeds, shall we?
The NCAA says that the season can be conducted between January 30 and March 5 with the men’s and women’s national championship meeting getting scheduled for March 15th, 2021. 255 runners on both the men’s and women’s side of things will compete for the national championship, which is the usual number, so that’s not weird. However, what is interesting is that there is no mention of the use of the nine regional qualifying events. The NCAA seems insistent on reducing the size of the national championships across the board, so we may be looking at a national championship race with only automatic qualifiers from conference championships. That’s just a guess based on extrapolating from incomplete data, though.
I do have two questions about operating a cross country season in what amounts to the month of February and only the month of February. It’s not the reduction of the season to just five weeks, whereas in 2019 Marquette had meets scheduled between August 31st and October 25th. No, my first question is the obvious “are we sure that we can get races going outdoors in February?” Marquette tends to compete in races that could easily be bus ride trips other than the Big East championships, and it seems wildly unlikely that MU will be able to work in a race every single Saturday in February somewhere within a six hour drive of Milwaukee. The second is the slightly less obvious “can we get races scheduled when the cross country athletes are also expecting to compete in distance events for the indoor track & field season?” That’s something that’s already up for debate within NCAA circles, and the administrators are hammering out the fine details of all of this. We’ll see what happens, I guess?
Here we’re looking at a regular season between February 3rd and April 17th, with the NCAA announcing the national championship field on April 18th. The tournament would consist of 36 teams (24 automatic qualifiers and 12 at-large selections), down from a traditional size of 48 teams. I’m curious about the semifinals and finals being scheduled for a five day window in May, between the 13th and the 17th. Usually it’s a “semifinals on one day, take a day off, play the title game” situation. Then again, not to skip ahead, but the women’s bracket is culminating at the same time, so maybe this is a consolidation of locations thing.
This gives men’s soccer a 10+ week season, which is honestly right about what Marquette experienced in 2019. I don’t know if the Golden Eagles would be able to fit in a full 17 matches into that window as the Big East tournament would also have to make its way in there, but it should be easy enough to play a full 10 match slate against Big East foes and maybe a midweek non-conference match here and there.
It’s pretty much the exact same setup for the women’s side of the aisle: Between February 3rd and April 17th, selections on April 18th, College Cup finals between May 13-17. The only difference between this and the men’s calendar is that the women will go from a 64 team tournament to a 48 team field with 31 automatic qualifiers and 17 at-large berths.
Marquette’s entire 2019 season fit into a 10+ week timeframe, but the Golden Eagles did not qualify for the Big East tournament that year, which obviously adds some time to how long it takes to get the season completed before the NCAA selection process. Still, like the men’s side, it’s going to be simple enough to play a full 10 game schedule in Big East action if nothing else.
Since we already tipped our hand about the whole championships at one site thing in the men’s soccer area, I thought I’d hold this one for the WSOC section. This won’t be an issue for the entire Big East, but at least for Marquette and a few other schools in the league, there is lacrosse to consider. The good news for Marquette is that I presume that the seasonal bubble will return in the winter to allow for soccer games to be played no matter the weather. The bad news is that I have no idea how Marquette is going to schedule men’s and women’s soccer and men’s and women’s lacrosse games in the bubble. The good news, kind of, is that the standard lacrosse season does go a little bit longer than the soccer season that the NCAA is laying out for the spring with the national championship finals coming on Memorial Day every year.
Given Marquette’s history of success over the past decade, this is obviously the most important one to keep an eye on. The NCAA has set down a season guideline of January 22nd through April 3rd, with selections for the national championship being announced the next day, April 4th. The national championship tournament will be reduced to 48 teams, with 32 automatic qualifiers and 16 at-large selections. That does, obviously, put MU’s selection at something of a risk. Still, I feel like it’s safe to presume that the Golden Eagles will be capable of playing like a top 30 team, and that would make them safe enough to keep their NCAA streak going. The national championship would wrap up on April 23-25, and that “semifinals/day off/championship” arrangement does lend credence to my “all soccer in one place” theory.
This does appear to be a reduction in season length for volleyball. Marquette’s 2019 season was about 13 weeks long, while this is only a 10 week window. Quite honestly, volleyball may be the hardest season to pull off on a national level, as attempting to cram a volleyball season into the midst of men’s and women’s basketball might prove to be difficult at a majority of Division 1 institutions. Take the Big East, for example, where Butler and Xavier use the same gym for all three sports in a regular season, while Connecticut and St. John’s regularly make use of the same building for all three. At the very least, everyone except for Villanova uses the same barn for women’s basketball and women’s volleyball, which is bound to cause a crazy number of conflicts during late January and the entirety of February.
If nothing else, if volleyball is going to be played in only a 10 week window, that might automatically reduce MU’s season to Big East play only. If it’s going to take 10 weeks to get a 20 game Big East schedule in, then I don’t know how it’s possible for the Golden Eagles to play any non-conference matches at all, much less the volume and quality of non-conference contests that Ryan Theis likes to schedule for his team in order to ensure their place in the NCAA tournament.
And there we go. That’s the framework for what everything is going to look like after the first of the year. What still lies ahead is figuring out the actual schedules for all of these sports and moving forward from there. Quite honestly, it’s probably going to be a while before we hear anything on that front, as Marquette and the Big East are clearly very busy trying to hammer together men’s and women’s basketball schedules right now before the season is scheduled to start in less than two months. Once those get locked into place, then the league can start worrying about things that don’t start til January and February.
The fun part means that there will likely be no shortage of things to chat about in terms of schedules over the next few weeks, maybe months, so keep checking back here on Anonymous Eagle to see what’s up.