ESPN Scraps Plan for College Basketball Bubble Events in Orlando

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ESPN has abandoned its plan to hold early-season college basketball events in a bubble-like atmosphere in Orlando, according to The Athletic's Seth Davis.

The decision was made after the network and participating schools differed over health and safety protocols to be followed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We've decided to redirect our efforts to be sure the teams have enough time to make other plans," Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events, told The Athletic. "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."

According to Davis, the decision occurred because ESPN wanted to follow guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and the NCAA, which are more "restrictive" than the protocols most conferences plan to implement. 

"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."

Under that protocol, anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 must be re-tested after being clear for 90 days. 

ESPN college basketball reporter Jeff Borzello shared a statement from the network online regarding the events.

"ESPN Events set out to create a protected environment for teams to participate in early-season events in Orlando. Based on certain challenges surrounding testing protocols, we opted to resume these tournaments during the 2021-22 season," the statement read.

The two sides also hit a speed bump while discussing how to quarantine a player if he tested positive in the Orlando bubble. ESPN initially suggested quarantining the player in Orlando for 14 days, while other parties wanted teams to have the final say and be able to possibly send the player back to his school. Other challenges would have involved how to contract trace teammates and opposing players and possibly isolating an entire team.

Overby said ESPN hopes the Champions Classic and the Jimmy V Classic will still be played at other locations. According to CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein, Indianapolis has emerged as a potential host city for the two tournaments. 

Dozens of schools will be impacted by the cancelation of the Preseason NIT, Orlando Invitational, Diamond Head Classic, Wooden Legacy, Charleston Classic and Myrtle Beach Invitational. 

Rothstein reports that the teams scheduled to play in Orlando have been informed that an official cancelation will be announced by the end of the day. 

It was first reported in September that at least eight college hoops tournaments would be hosted in Orlando beginning on Nov. 25. The events were expected to be held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and run through the first two weeks of the season.

The 2020–21 college basketball season is set to begin on Nov. 25 instead of its usual Nov. 10 start date. The cancelation of these events will create even more challenges as the sport has struggled to sort out its schedule during these uncertain times.

Despite the changes in Orlando, the Maui Invitational is still expected to be held in Asheville, N.C., and 95% of the tournament's COVID-19 protocols have been agreed-upon with teams. The Maui Invitational was moved to North Carolina last month due to the ongoing pandemic. Some of the schools impacted by Orlando's cancelations could "end up playing in Asheville after Maui ends," reports Borzello