Colleges Discuss ‘Ideal’ Bubble Concept For 2021 Basketball Season-Except They Forgot One Thing

The wheels are in motion. Noting the success of multiple “bubble” scenarios in the NBA, WNBA, NWSL, and NHL, college basketball leaders are already pondering the logistics on their bubble, and all the wonderful reasons why it will work for their sports.

The Big East is the first out of the gate to describe what their bubble could look like—and note, because they did not have to deal with staging a college football season, they did have a head start. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that “cost-benefit analyses are being handed around. Some timing scenarios mean starting at Thanksgiving, or over the winter break. There’s also a “super-delayed” model being offered up in which preseason training doesn’t start until January, the nonconference schedule begins in February, the Big East schedule in March.” But optimism is starting to abound.

Of course, the Big East and other “basketball centric” conferences like the Atlantic 10 have one benefit that football doesn’t have—an NCAA tournament. To some degree, they are interdependent on each other for non-conference games and a post season tournament.

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Basketball scheduling gurus are anxious to get some clarity to the situation so the lucrative “pre-season” invitationals can commence (think Las Vegas, Nevada or Bimini, Bahamas). Nebraska AD Bill Moos has offered up Lincoln as a potential bubble site. Folks are so convinced this is going to happen that Adam Rittenberg reported that the term “Battle in the Bubble” has been requested as a trademark.

There’s just one thing no one has mentioned. Mental Health.

This week, NBA players like Paul George have begun to speak out about their mental health concerns while working inside of the bubble. On Twitter, George wrote: “The bubble got the best of me. … I was just in a bad place. I found my way. I’m back.”

Later, he told Ben Golliver of the Washington Post about his struggles in the bubble. “I underestimated mental health, honestly. I had anxiety and a little bit of depression. Being locked in here (in the bubble), I just wasn’t there. I checked out.”

He isn’t the only one who has talked about the stress and strain of not seeing your family, of feeling locked away while one of the biggest social justice movements in recent memory is happening outside of the bubble.

Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens told “From a mental health standpoint in the bubble, listen, that’s real. Right now we’ve been 50-some-odd days and everybody is obviously coming off a very heavy week, but there have been plenty of days that have been difficult for people all across the board.”

The strain on professional athletes is real. How will college athletes react?

It’s one thing to go on a four or five day road trip to the Maui Invitational, but it’s another to spend two or three weeks seeing only your team and the hotel staff. Would the players be locked down inside their hotel? If so, how do teams plan to address the inevitable issues that come up? Family issues, privacy issues (including not wanting your teammates to know you are struggling with anxiety, depression or other normal human emotions). If someone has to leave the bubble for any reason (injury evaluation, personal issue), how does he/she return to the team? Do they have to be quarantined?

Yes, there must be faster turnarounds on testing; 2-3 days is still too long. And we hope that there will be enough tests for everyone to get one if they want one.

But in college sports, we are so anxious to return to some kind of normalcy, we speed right over the parts that affect the athletes and the coaches. Before this idea gets too far down the track, there must be a concrete plan to deal with the inevitable mental health issues.

Unfortunately, mental health is still stigmatized in this country. I applaud the NBA players for telling their story. It is important that we see the bubbles for all their possibilities- and imperfections.

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