Orlando CBB Bubble Tournament Plans Scrapped Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistOctober 26, 2020

ESPN cameramen work during a WNBA basketball game between the Washington Mystics and the Las Vegas Aces, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

ESPN has canceled its plans to set up a bubble in Orlando, Florida, for its college basketball tournaments amid the COVID-19 pandemic, per Seth Davis of The Athletic, impacting "10 events owned by ESPN and more than two dozen schools who were supposed to play in them."

"We've decided to redirect our efforts to be sure the teams have enough time to make other plans," Clint Overby, the vice president of ESPN Events, told Davis. "At the end of the day, our bias was toward safety and making sure that what we pulled off was in the best interests of the sport. In the absence of those things, we decided we're better off letting schools do their own thing."

Overby did say that the network will attempt to host two of the tournaments, the Champions Classic and the Jimmy V Classic, at alternate sites. But it would appear the other ESPN events—the Preseason NIT, Orlando Invitational, Diamond Head Classic, Wooden Legacy, Charleston Classic and Myrtle Beach Invitational—will all be canceled this year. 

That will affect the schedules of the men's teams at Virginia, Florida State and Texas Tech, among other schools. If the Champions Classic and Jimmy V Classic are ultimately canceled it will impact Michigan State, Kansas, Gonzaga, Duke, Kentucky, Baylor, Illinois and Tennessee. 

The fallout from this decision is pretty comprehensive, in other words. 

The decision to cancel came over a gulf between how ESPN wanted to handle coronavirus protocols and how the various conferences are approaching them. As Davis noted, "the plans broke down mainly because ESPN was trying to abide by guidelines handed down by the Centers for Disease Control and the NCAA, which are more restrictive than the protocols many conferences are planning to implement."

Namely, ESPN wanted to retest any player who had previously tested positive for COVID-19 after they were clear of the coronavirus for 90 days. 

"The 90-day testing protocol became the key sticking point," Overby said. "Once we laid that out there were individual schools who couldn't agree because their conference rules are more open-ended with respect to when you test someone again who has contracted the virus."

Another sticking point was how to handle any players who tested positive in Orlando and the subsequent contact tracing, with ESPN wanting the player to quarantine in Orlando for 14 days but schools desiring more oversight into those procedures. Ultimately, ESPN's plans to bring its tournaments to Orlando weren't feasible. 

"If this were a normal year and we lost events, I'd be very disappointed," Overby said. "But in a year where public safety and student-athlete safety is the guiding principle, I'm not going to be disappointed we had to pull the plug on something when there were so many unknowns we couldn't bridge."