As a sort of Plan B, the Big 12 Conference had the foresight to add an open week between the end of the basketball regular-season schedule and the league tournament as a landing spot for games postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The question now is, what is Plan C?
Because from where I stand, that is becoming the feasible and fair option as a backload of conference games remain on standby as the end of the regular season continues to creep closer and closer.
West Virginia received a makeup date for its postponed game at Baylor, with the Mountaineers now slated to play in Waco, Texas on Feb. 25. That game slides in between a road contest at TCU and a home date with Kansas State, accounting for three games in five days and four games in eight days.
It’s a busy stretch to say the least, and if the league is determined to get all regular-season games in, it’s likely to get a lot worse.
See, the Mountaineers still have three games, all home dates, to reschedule after contests against Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU were postponed. That would mean three games in the 10 days between WVU’s final currently scheduled game, the aforementioned game against Kansas State, and the start of the Big 12 tournament on March 10.
Really, WVU is more fortunate than most if the league still plans on squeezing in all regular-season games. Three games in 10 days, all in Morgantown, would be doable, especially if three games in five days with two of them in Texas is considered such. I’m sure WVU coach Bob Huggins wouldn’t agree; just ask him about the perils of travel for his team sometime.
But as imperfect as West Virginia’s situation is, it’s nothing compared to that of the No. 2 Bears. Baylor hasn’t played a game since Feb. 2. The Bears have four games remaining on their schedule — Oklahoma State (Feb. 20), Iowa State (Feb. 23), WVU (Feb. 25) and at Kansas (Feb. 27). But at 9-0 in the league and with four games still on the schedule, that leaves five more contests the Bears would theoretically have to wedge into the 10 days between the game with the Jayhawks and the conference tournament.
To me, it’s obvious that there’s no way Baylor is going to get those in, and that’s not lost on the Bears either. On Feb. 10, Baylor took the time and initiative to formally announce that it would not opt out of the Big 12 tournament, with athletic director Mack Rhoades saying, “Mathematically, where we are now, I don’t think we’ll end up playing all 18 conference games. I don’t think that’s feasible.” The report was written by CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd.
Rhoades is 100% right, and I get that canceled home games leads to financial ramifications. But one would think that the reduced crowds already would soften that blow a bit.
But why is Baylor’s AD pointing out the obvious, yet the league has remained silent on the issue? What is the holdup?
And why in basketball is it so important to squeeze in so many league games? In football, the Big 12 plays a round-robin format with the top two emerging to play in the league championship game. In basketball? All 10 league teams make the tournament field, with the top six getting a bye. We can sit and argue about seeding and the corresponding byes that the top six teams in the standings receive, but at the end of the day, every team in the conference has an opportunity to win the tournament, regardless of a team’s regular-season record.
So why the urgency? As a league, shouldn’t the Big 12 be more concerned with the health of its teams heading into the NCAA Tournament, which starts the week after the conference tournament? Trying to squeeze in a game every two days into the 10 days before a grueling league tournament — in which games are played on consecutive days — seems like the perfect recipe for Big 12 representatives in the national tournament to be completely gassed when it starts.
It’s just not going to happen. The only other option would be to cancel the Big 12 tournament in favor of getting the regular-season games in. And that’s not going to happen either.
Rhoades knows that. So does the Big 12 brass.
Now all they have to do is say so.