It was January, and things were rolling in the world of The Basketball Tournament. Half a year removed from the seventh installment of the annual event, one that saw Ohio State alumni team Carmen’s Crew capture the crown in front of its biggest television audience yet, TBT’s “Elam Ending” had been chosen to augment the NBA’s all-star game in mid-February.
But yet, there was something brewing on the horizon that had the attention of TBT co-founder Dan Friel. It was making itself known as coronavirus, and Friel started planning for how it could potentially affect plans to hold TBT during the summer of 2020.
Wednesday, TBT announced that it will be holding this year’s version in one as-yet unknown city. It will feature 24 teams rather than the traditional 64, it will be played during the span of 10 days and will feature significant testing of all participants while being quarantined for the event.
Not only is it a plan that founder and CEO Jon Mugar said is feasible and safe, it is currently the 13th version of TBT’s ongoing safety plan.
“He’s a great consumer of news, worldwide news, so he was reading stories about it and rightfully predicting that this could be a big deal,” Mugar said of Friel. “We didn’t really piece it together to the extent that it could impact TBT because I was assuming it wouldn’t be as big a factor as it is now. Once it became clear, that’s when we started working on it.
“This was just another enormous obstacle and we were able to find our way around it.”
The plan for the $2 million, winner-take-all tournament was developed through consultations with epidemiologists and infectious disease experts, Mugar said. A news release specifically mentions Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who is a former Olympic swimmer and PGA Tour medical director Dr. Thomas Hospel.
As part of TBT’s testing plan, a positive COVID-19 test will result in the removal of the player and his team from the event. Teams will be kept separate at all times in quarantine, and players will be screened daily for symptoms. They will be tested before the event gets underway and also undergo an exit screening by local health officials.
“If there’s anything this virus has taught us is there’s no way to ensure 100 percent probability of anything, but after reviewing TBT’s plan and challenging some of their assumptions, I feel confident in the approach they are taking to minimize risk and their commitment to conducting this event responsibly,” Sell said in a statement.
Mugar said that while there were some “very negative days” where the likelihood of holding the event this summer seemed to be in doubt, he never gave up on the idea of finding a way to play TBT.
The plan will be continually updated in the coming weeks, but Mugar said the hope is to pick and announce a host city within the next two weeks with the hope of giving teams and players at least a months’ notice before having to report to a city. A source has indicated to The Dispatch that Wichita, Kansas, is being discussed as a site alongside a city in West Virginia and another in Florida.
Teams will be selected by a selection committee, Mugar said, using the same thought processes that placed 64 teams in the field last season. More than 110 teams have applied to take part in this year’s event.
“We’ve seen TBT basketball now and we know teams we can rely upon and who play TBT basketball, so it’s always going to be a mix of chemistry, intensity, reliability and talent,” Mugar said. “It doesn’t change because our field is smaller.”