The coronavirus may prove to have control of the game when it comes to college basketball, but the NJCAA decided its holding for the last shot.
Last week the NJCAA Board of Regents voted to move the men’s and women’s basketball seasons until the spring semester. Vincennes University, which opened its men’s and women’s seasons on Nov. 1 a year ago, now won’t begin the “2020-21” campaign until Jan. 22.
The regular seasons are allotted 22 games, down from the normal 30. The NJCAA Finals, which the VU men captured in 2019, won’t start until mid-April.
It’s a big change from years past, especially for the men, who opened their seasons with lengthy November homestands and invitationals. Now both teams are going to play almost of their games against Region 24 competition. Those games are slated for Wednesdays and Saturdays. Non-region games, which both Blazers squads have a handful of to fill out their schedules, are going to be played on Mondays.
The ones who may have the hardest time adjusting are the veteran coaches, NJCAA Hall of Famers Todd Franklin for the men and Harry Meeks for the women. They see a different schedule after having it be a set way for decades, but they understand the new slate was needed.
“The schedule was going to be impossible if we stayed the same way. This bought us some time and took some real pressure off some guys. I just hope we can tamp this virus down by January,” Franklin said. “I know junior colleges are going to give it their best try. We were the last one standing last season before it was shut down.
“This gives us the best chance to have a season. Moving the end of the season back one month didn’t hurt anything, and it might be a positive,” he said. “In April we may be the only college basketball show going. It’s going to give recruiters more time to see our players.”
Meeks agreed with delaying the start of the season.
“You look at the scene nationally, with the cases rising, I agree wholeheartedly with what the NJCAA did,” he said. “The virus forced changes to be made and to the NJCAA’s credit it did.
“We’ll be better prepared for (the virus) in the second semester. The school has worked hard to get ready for when the students get back. I’m looking forward to seeing them back on campus. It’s been awhile.”
While the basketball seasons are shortened, the practice times have lengthened. Coaches can work with players for eight hours of week when they return to campus. The preseason is 60 days, taking up the majority of October and November.
“The added practice is going to be good. We’ve been off so long, with things closed down in March and no summer school. Junior college teams are almost all new teams every year too,” Franklin said.
“With the pace we can work at now, it’s going to give us a better product,” he said. “We can teach players more, and they’re going to become better players. They’re going to get a firm base, and we can really form a team. We may even put in some things that we normally don’t do because of time.”
An earlier schedule this summer had VU teams opening in mid-October and taking more than a month break after Thanksgiving.
“If we would’ve done that, playing in October after those six months off, that wouldn’t have been fair to the players,” Franklin said. “This format now allow them to be more prepared. I’m 100% behind this move.”
Meeks, whose teams like to press and run, said he has to pace himself more this coming season.
“I like to work a lot on skill stuff anyway. That’s what makes a solid basketball team, so that’s not going to change,” he said. “But we may switch some practice stuff though. I like for our teams to be coming up the hill at a rate of speed late in the season instead of stumbling down. We’ve had girls with nagging injuries late in the year recently. I need to do a better job of substituting, saving minutes for the second half of the season.”
Basketball wasn’t the only VU sport affected. Volleyball has been moved to the spring semester, with its season coinciding with basketball for the first time. Meeks noted that the P.E. Complex practice schedule figures to be busier with volleyball also needing court time.
“The main gym is going to be used quite a bit. Luckily we have some good facilities here. I like practicing at Beless Gym because there’s no distractions,” Meeks said. “You walk in there and feel a lot of good history. I’m hoping some of that falls out of the rafters on us.”