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Mack excited, Louisville players ‘relieved’ to finally have tipoff date for upcoming basketball season

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

Louisville basketball coach Chris Mack will be dealing with some massive scheduling headaches for the 2020-21 season during the next week or so, but he’s not complaining. Far from it.

Mack was just glad to get the news Wednesday night that the NCAA had finally decided when teams can tip off the season, bumping the starting day back two weeks from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25 for its 353 Division I programs. The new date, along with a reduction in games from 31 to 27, means that UofL, like many others, will have to do some serious reshuffling.

It will be the latest start for the Cardinals’ season debut since Nov. 29, 2004, when they opened against Iowa in the John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis.

Still, despite the late start and the cutback in games, the NCAA announcement was encouraging news for college basketball coaches, players and fans who have been without the sport since the season was shut down on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic just as the Cards were to play their Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament opener in Greensboro, N.C.

Louisville head coach Chris Mack will be dealing with some massive scheduling headaches during the next week or so. The NCAA has bumped the starting date back to Nov. 25 for its 353 Division I basketball programs. (UofL photo)

“We’re awfully excited that all signs point toward getting our season started,” Mack said during a teleconference Thursday afternoon. “There’s probably a thousand opinions around the country as to when they thought the optimum start date was. I’ll be honest with you, I think they probably should have left it the way it was. This opens up a can of worms with what we’re trying to deal with for the non-conference schedule. But it beats what happened to us at the end of the year a season ago. So really, really excited about getting things going. Don’t know who we’re playing first, don’t know how that’s going to look, but it beats the alternative.

“To say I have any concrete information to give you as far as likely opponents, that would be very premature. We’re all in the same boat trying to figure out games we had scheduled previously, and there’s a lot of stuff in flux right now. To this point we’re in conversations with a lot of people around the country trying to do what we can to put together a non-conference schedule.”

Among the events that will have to be rescheduled or canceled is UofL’s appearance with Arkansas, Colorado State and San Francisco in the MGM Resorts Main Event benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer, which was set for Nov. 20-22 in Las Vegas. Mack said he wasn’t sure whether that tournament will be moved or if UofL will still play in it.

“We’re looking into it,” he said. “Obviously, the dates of that exempt event fall outside the window the NCAA provided for non-conference games to begin. So from a contractual standpoint, I don’t think we have any obligation to play it because we can’t play during that time. If it made sense for us to go out to Vegas then we would. Obviously, I think the chances have diminished, but I don’t have anything finalized in terms of are we going to go to Vegas or not?”

The Vegas event could conceivably be moved to a bubble in Orlando, similar to what the NBA has been doing since late July. Eight other college basketball events are to be held in that location, reportedly including the Champions Classic featuring Kentucky vs. Kansas and Duke vs. Michigan State.

Mack said he is confident that the ACC/Big Ten Challenge games will be played because they are a priority for both leagues.

“So that will be played unless something unforeseen happens,” he said. “But I don’t think I’m at liberty right now to give the dates they’re proposing, so I won’t do that and let the cat out of the bag and get yelled at.”

Mack said UofL’s scheduled game against Cincinnati will probably be postponed until next season and that it is now possible that Louisville could host Bellarmine for a game, a move he had previously discounted. The Knights are moving to Division I this season.

“We’ve been talking to several teams geographically that are close to Louisville that could make sense for what a non-conference schedule would look like,” Mack said. “Bellarmine is certainly one of those schools.”

While many details remain undecided, the NCAA also ruled that teams could play as few as 13 games and still be eligible to qualify for a spot in March Madness.

Louisville’s David Johnson is a versatile player and will be a key to the Cardinals’ success this season. (UofL photo)

From Sept. 21 through Oct. 13, teams may work in conditioning, sport-related meetings and skill instruction for up to 12 hours per week, with skill instruction not exceeding eight hours per week. Preseason practice can begin on Oct. 14, with 30 practices permitted in the 42 days leading up to the start of the season.

“For our players, this is a great relief,” Mack said. “They’ve had a little jolt of energy, so it’s great. For months all they’ve heard is the cancellation of the season being a possibility, are they gonna have a year? They’ve watched everything that’s developed in college football from postponing the season to saying they’re not playing. They’ve seen it all.”

LOUISVILLE RESPONDS TO NCAA CHARGES: Louisville responded Wednesday to an NCAA Notice of Allegations received in May that alleged one Level I violation in the recruiting of Brian Bowen II and three Level II violations, one of them against former coach Rick Pitino. It has been nearly three years since the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball sparked the allegations against UofL.

The NCAA now has 60 days, by Nov. 15, to respond to UofL’s response. UofL has promised “pushback” on any charges it disputes, but the contents of its reply have not been made public. A university spokesman said the document would be made available to the media next week after parts of it are redacted.

Following the NCAA’s reply, UofL would have 15 days to request that its case be heard by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions or that it be submitted to the new Independent Accountability Resolution Process, whose ruling would be permanent and not allow for an appeal.

Asked if he had any sense of when the NCAA situation would be resolved, Mack replied: “No, I don’t have any idea. All that stuff happened before me and so no I don’t.”

Russ Brown covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today.

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