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Academics Before Athletics, Altered Calendar Could Impact The Latter

The world of college athletics faces multiple challenges to their 2020-21 seasons as universities and athletics directors wrestle with a worldwide health crisis.

Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde on Tuesday published an article on how potential academic calendars caused by the pandemic might impact athletics, and in particular, college basketball season. 

The academic calendar is shifting at American universities as we speak. Will the athletic calendar shift with it," wrote Forde?

"On Monday, Notre Dame announced that it is starting its fall semester early, canceling fall break, and ending the semester before Thanksgiving—something athletic director Jack Swarbrick indicated to Sports Illustrated was a possibility last week. That came a day after South Carolina announced a similar move, sending students home before Thanksgiving and then conducting finals remotely. Creighton and Marquette, among other schools, are also condensing their fall academic schedules."

While there are still decisions to be made for universities across the nation, these changes could have a ripple effect on others who might not intend to take the same measures in adjusting their academic calendars.

Vanderbilt has not announced any plans to alter its calendar. However, they are in a unique position because of the status of their chancellorship, currently occupied by interim Susan R. Wente with incoming Chancellor Daniel Diermeier set to assume the position July 1 of this year.

"With robust planning and action, I sincerely hope that we will soon be able to reconnect in classrooms and across our residential living-learning community. Because of the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, a definitive decision or timeframe cannot be announced at this precise moment. However, Incoming Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and I will communicate with you as soon as we have reached a firm decision on updates regarding all aspects of the fall semester at Vanderbilt," wrote Wente in a letter to students from the university website

A shift in academic scheduling should Vanderbilt move in the same direction as Notre Dame, and South Carolina (with other institutions expected to do the same) could impact the early portion of basketball season and the schedule of early season, nonconference games. 

"The optics on that arrangement would not be great—student-athletes grinding out TV inventory while the non-athlete students have all gone home. The reality might not be as bad as it looks—most winter-sports athletes already spend up to a month living and training on virtually closed campuses, and a closed campus might be a relatively safe location in a virus resurgence. (Safe, but lonely.)"

"Regardless, it will be one more consideration for universities as they try to thread the needle on an appropriate approach to health, academics, and athletics."

"A normal football season would be almost complete by Thanksgiving, with the vast majority of teams playing their final regular-season game that week and a select few moving on to conference championship games in early December. Then comes bowl season, which is rife with potential issues. If there is concern about a resurgence of the virus, how many players (and fans) are signing up for that trip to the New Mexico Bowl?"

Forde is correct that the potential optics might not be excellent in this day and time where people become offended by the slightest perceived injustice, which could be the case where student-athletes are being treated differently than the rest of the student population. 

Still, it's another aspect for administrators to consider in attempting to balance academics and athletics in these unprecedented times. 

How would the potential calendar shift impact the basketball season, according to Forde?

  • College basketball would lose a ton of nonconference games that elevate early-season fan interest and go a long way toward establishing NCAA tournament credentials. Analytics systems such as the NCAA NET Ratings, which have become increasingly accurate (and important) tools for selecting and seeding tournament teams, would have little to go on.
  • If the 2020–21 NBA season starts late because the' 19–20 season ends late, the embattled college game could be missing an opportunity to grab the audience. If, say, the NBA tips off on Christmas Day, it would provide weeks of an open window for the college game to increase its TV time and audience share.

Again, there has been no announced decision on the part of Vanderbilt to move their calendar. Still, with the current situation and new incoming chancellor, that could be something that takes place after Diermeir's arrival. 

Regardless, this will be one of, if not the most challenging academic and athletic years in history and could have a lasting impact for years to come.  

NOTE: Some content provided by Vanderbilt Athletics via the Vanderbilt website available here.  

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