If you had sat down with Chris Holtmann two weeks ago and asked about the scheduled start of a full college basketball season, the Ohio State coach would’ve given you pretty good odds. About 70 percent, he said Wednesday night.
Now, as we inch closer to the fall and college sports continue to grapple with the ongoing COVID-109 pandemic, Holtmann remains optimistic that there will be some sort of season. What it looks like, when it might start and what it could entail all remains tough to forecast right now.
"This is really, really fluid," Holtmann said in an appearance on the "Mad About Hoops" podcast, the entirety of which you can see below. "I really believe there’s going to be a season. Full season, non-conference, conference, I don’t know about that. I’ve got to believe if football is playing a conference season, that might be the direction we’ll go. I think if football is being played, we’ll have a season. I really believe that."
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On July 9, the Big Ten announced that it will only play conference football games this season. Locally, Ohio State had to briefly pause voluntary summer workouts for five days after an undisclosed number of positive COVID-19 tests. More broadly, multiple conferences have announced various plans to deal with the pandemic, ranging from cutting sports teams to pushing back all competition until January.
Iona coach Rick Pitino has used his personal Twitter page to campaign for a universal Jan. 1 start date for college basketball. Holtmann said there remains time before that type of decision needs to be made.
"I think right now, you don’t need to make that decision," he said. "That’s what I think. That idea was circulated and because of Rick and his stature and what he’s done, it got a lot of publicity. People have been discussing that for a while now, for a month and a half. Do we just go to a conference season? We don’t have to make that decision yet.
"I think it’s so early to be making decisions like that for men’s basketball. But in order to plan effectively I think there has to be a plan in place to say if we go to conference games, are we going to play 26 games, a round robin in the big ten? What are your games going to be limited to? There’s a lot of logistics to look at."
Moving to a conference-only schedule would prevent Ohio State from participating in the Battle 4 Atlantis, an annual high-profile tournament played around Thanksgiving in the Bahamas. As recently as last week, Holtmann said he was on the phone with organizers of the event.
"We were still looking at the Bahamas as the actual location," he said. "Now I’m not sure that’s going to be the case, if it’s going to be in the Bahamas or not. Does it even make sense to travel internationally in the middle of a pandemic? Does that make sense to put our guys in harms’ way? Having said that, what tournament organizers would tell you is the Bahamas has less cases per capita than some of the places in the United States where you might have the tournament."
Holtmann said the participating teams, as well as the organizers, remain in regular contact discussing their thoughts on participating.
"If a couple teams decide to pull out, everybody’s scrambling at that point," Holtmann said. "I don’t think that’ll happen. Do I have the sense that it’s going to be in the Bahamas? I think it’s very much up in the air, but I have not heard that one way or another. A lot of coaches and administrators are asking if international travel makes sense in the middle of a pandemic right now."
Throughout the pandemic, Holtmann and his fellow Ohio State coaches have publicly urged fans to wear masks, practice social distancing and do their part to slow the spread of the virus in an effort to ensure that sports can be played this year. Wearing a mask can be an inconvenience, he said, but a worthy one.
"We have a responsibility as human citizens of this world to at least do our best to protect one another," he said. "I don’t see how wearing a mask is controversial, just like I don’t see how saying things like Black lives Matter is controversial. I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. But it’s the day and age we live in. I think it’s incumbent on all of us to think about your neighbor right now and if wearing a mask matters, regardless of sports or not, let’s try to do our part.
"Nobody wants to see anybody get sick with COVID. Nobody wants that."