Howe: Designing a Non-Conference Bubble for Iowa Basketball
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Let’s get the band back together. And by that I mean the Big Four college basketball event in Des Moines. Even better, we’ll expand it.
For seven seasons, Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Drake played at Wells Fargo Arena, the high majors alternating mid-major opponents annually. It ended in 2018-19 when the big boys backed out for more scheduling freedom. Iowa replaced it by facing Cincinnati in Chicago last December.
While the unique event in our state isn’t likely to return regularly, what better time than a pandemic to bring some joy here during a year to mostly forget? If college basketball is looking at non-conference bubbles, spark it up at The Well with The Big Four setting the foundation for an entertaining shindig.
It would limit travel in hopes of reducing the risk for contracting coronavirus before the all-important conference seasons. Bring in other programs from around the region and test daily. Sequester teams in local hotels.
Schedule makers will deal with logistics. Other than Drake and UNI, who hail from the Missouri Valley Conference, they would want to avoid bringing in teams from the same leagues. That eliminates regional possibilities like Minnesota and Nebraska from the Big Ten, Kansas and Kansas State from the Big 12 and a host of MVC schools.
There are plenty of options, however.
Start with another high major. That would give Iowa and Iowa State two contests against the upper crust in an abbreviated non-conference slate. Missouri of the Big 12, Marquette and Creighton of the Big East, and Colorado from the PAC-12 would be solid choices.
The NCAA has instituted a limit of 25 regular-season games for ’20-21 with up to an additional two contests in a multi-team event. It’s unknown if a non-conference bubble would qualify as an “event” but you’d think the governing body would allow it to be.
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Going off the assumption it would, and one that has Iowa playing 20 conference games, the Hawkeyes could play a max of seven non-league contests. The Big Ten would be smart to start conference play early while classes all are online in December and January. It also allows time for rescheduling if cancellations occur due to positive COVID-19 tests and contract tracing.
It was reported Wednesday that the ACC-B1G Challenge would be played on campuses. Within the rules, Iowa could face up to six more non-conference games.
A 14-day, six-game bubble in late November and early December fits in nicely ahead of conference play. My remedial math skills tell me that would mean seven teams are involved. We have four with the in-state schools.
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Missouri would be the ideal high-major invitee. It’s a former Big 12 foe for the Cyclones, and the Hawkeyes also have a history with the Tigers. Creighton would be entertaining but I could also see it holding a bubble event with Nebraska in Omaha or Lincoln.
After adding Missouri, we’ll need three non-MVC, non-high major contestants. And, again, we’ll draw teams from the region.
Dipping into the Summit League makes sense. Most of the schools are located a manageable bus ride from Des Moines. Nebraska-Omaha, Western Illinois and the Dakota schools provide plenty of sensible choices. Let’s go with a team coming off a 16-16 campaign in Nebraska-Omaha, which would have a short two-hour trip to The Well.
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Next up is the Horizon League. While it’s more spread out than the Summit, it still offers workable prospects such as Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Illinois-Chicago. Bring on Milwaukee, which posted 12-19 mark in ’19-20.
And we have our seven-team field – Iowa, Iowa State, Missouri, Drake, Northern Iowa, Nebraska-Omaha and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Everybody plays one game against the other six programs. Another program could be added with the programs other than the Hawkeyes playing seven contests.
The event could be stretched out to 10-14 days or shortened up with teams playing more frequently. There really isn’t rush with student-athletes will be taking classes online.
Come on, who says no?
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