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America East Scheduling & Eligibility Update

There’s Been a lot of Changes Recently – How Will it Affect the Season?

The NBA was fortunate enough to have necessary means to make their “Bubble” system work. The protocols put in place restricted players movement and separated them from their families. It was without a doubt incredibly tough on everyone involved to quarantine for those few months down in Orlando. Yet the “Bubble” proved to be highly effective and should unquestionably be deemed a success, as not a single Covid test came back positive.

Unfortunately, the NCAA has a bit more red tape than the NBA to deal with for the upcoming basketball season. Until fairly recently, the question of whether there would even be a college basketball season was still up the air. Luckily those doubts have been put to bed, as the NCAA announced that the official start date of the season would be Wednesday, November 25th. 

The season was set to commence on November 10th, but a committee of NCAA members voted to push back the start. There are plenty of actions that will go into effect this year, as the NCAA tries to push forward with sports while remaining cautious about potential Covid outbreaks. Here a few of the other notable items:

  • Teams may begin organized team activities on Oct.14th
  • No exhibition or scrimmages (against other teams) will happen
  • Committee recommends at least four out-of-conference games
  • Max number of games allowed will be 27

Hopefully these changes, along with the rest of the protocols the NCAA has put in place will help keep the players and coaches safe throughout the season. Although nothing was officially announced, it’s to be expected that these games will be played in empty gymnasiums. The fervent atmosphere at Patrick Gym has been known to get LOUD, making for a very imposing stage. If we can at least get Tony Patella in there we should be ok.

In a typical year Vermont might play around 33-37 games a year. With four non-conference games needed and a conference slate of 18 games ahead of them, Vermont has the option of adding five more non-conference affairs should they elect to do so. The Catamounts have yet to release their upcoming schedule, but plan on doing so soon, as they are likely making those final tweaks before the ink dries. 

Buffalo and Iona are the two known out-of-conference games that have been announced thus far. Those games will be played at Mohegan Sun between Nov. 30th and Dec. 2nd. The America East has already announced that they will have their own restrictions and protocols for the season to go along with what the NCAA has put forth. Travel restrictions and testing could prove difficult for finding suitable out-of-conference opponents. If Vermont maxes out their schedule to the full 27 games, expect to see more “local” teams in the surrounding northeast.

The America East has also made a change with their schedule formatting. To cut down on travel, a weekend series of back-to-back games has been established. Here’s an example of how it would work:

  • Vermont vs. Hartford (Saturday at Burlington, VT)
  • Hartford vs. Vermont (Sunday at Burlington, VT)

This helps to eliminate travel, while providing more time for testing. With nine other conference opponents, some teams will have five home series and four away series. With fans not allowed at these contests, it’s likely not to weigh much in the final outcome of the games themselves. America East conference play is set to begin the weekend of December 19th. The conference tournament will presumably be played at one location similar to their old format. 

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In regards to eligibility, the NCAA voted and approved to grant winter athletes an extra year of eligibility as part of the one-time rule changes. The council approved these measures to provide as much opportunity and flexibility to student-athletes as the uncertainty of a full season still looms. The NCAA had previously granted the same eligibility waiver to fall and spring athletes whose season might have been impacted from the pandemic. The council stated that they didn’t want athletes opting to redshirt the year over fears that their season could be cut short or potentially impacted from the ongoing pandemic.

Another tidbit from these meetings was the NCAA proposing a new rule that would allow athletes a one-time transfer waiver, meaning they would be immediately eligible for their new team. While this new rule doesn’t affect Vermont this year, the Catamounts have found success through the transfer market in years prior and would now be able to add a player without having them sit out a year before making their debut.

The extra year of eligibility is a massive weight off the shoulders for student-athletes. There’s no need to worry about redshirting or having a season cut short, as the 2020-21 season is essentially a free year. There will likely be some players who elect to move on after the season regardless, but Vermont could return the likes Stef Smith, Ben Shungu and Bernie Andre come 2021-22. Now that’s a scary thought.

With a roster of 16 players, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Vermont would have to redshirt a few players, however, that won’t be necessary any more. Now don’t expect John Becker to go with a 16 man rotation every night, but with a free year at his disposal, Becker can get real creative with his line-ups. Development of the younger Cats like Georges Lefebvre, Eric Beckett and Nick Fiorillo will be fascinating to watch, as Vermont has a golden opportunity to win-now, while simultaneously building for the future with this extra year of eligibility.

There is however a flip side to this one-time eligibility rule going into effect. Scholarship offers and roster spots are going to get murky. UConn Women’s Coach, Geno Auriemma wasn’t a fan of the new altercations for students eligibility. Here’s his remarks when asked about the changes to the rule: “I think you’re going to have a lot of coaches that are going to go, ‘You’re putting me in a tough spot here.’ Because now you’re going to have some seniors go, ‘Hey, I want to stay.’ And then you’ve got a coach going, like, ‘I wasn’t planning on you staying.’ Now what are you going to do — turn the kid out?”

Vermont, like many other programs, will have to take a wait-and-see approach. With another solid year Smith could decide to forgo that extra year eligibility and try to make the jump to the NBA or other professional league. Likewise, Andre could be one-and-done at Vermont and look to venture elsewhere. Even Shungu, who’s already a fifth-year senior could decide that he’s ready to move on. Every action has consequences, both good and bad. The extra year of eligibility creates a pressure-free season for these athletes, but could severely complicate future roster plans. Open tip is fast approaching (checks Jon Rothstein’s Twitter). Be prepared for one of the most unpredictable college basketball seasons to date.

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One thought on “America East Scheduling & Eligibility Update Leave a comment

  1. Surely there’s an innocuous gameday job to which Becker can assign Tony Patella – one that has few to no responsibilities so that Tony can focus on his own running commentary. Perhaps guarding the already-locked hallway door at the back of Patrick Gym?

    The quote from Auriemma raises a good point. Up until now, grad transfers have been players who wanted a change of venue for their final season of eligibility. Now there will be some good players whose coaches want them to find a change of venue because the coach feels that the incoming freshman who needs their scholarship has more long-term upside. Vermont has no Class of 2021 commitments at this point, but perhaps that won’t matter.

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