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ESPN scraps men's college basketball bubble plans, cancels 8 events

ESPN is casting aside initial plans to host eight of its nonconference men’s college basketball events at a bubble site in Orlando, Florida. The events are now canceled for this season and will resume in 2021-22.

The company announced the news on Monday, confirming a report by The Athletic’s Seth Davis that detailed the “ongoing differences” between ESPN and the participating schools.

ESPN cancels 8 men’s basketball events

ESPN was trying to move eight of the 10 men’s events it hosts to ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World in Orlando, where the NBA recently completed its 100-day bubble.

The events consisted of the Champions Classic, Charleston Classic, Myrtle Beach Invitational, NIT Season Tip-Off, Wooden Legacy, Orlando Invitational, Jimmy V Classic and Diamond Head Classic. More than two dozen schools were involved.

ESPN PR released a statement:


“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 season is set to begin in one month on Nov. 25. Scheduling is an issue for the upcoming men’s and women’s basketball seasons due to COVID-19 related restrictions. The maximum number of regular season games is 25, plus one multi-team event.

Teams up against scheduling problems

COVID-19 sign in front of ESPN's Wide World of Sports sign.
ESPN was trying to host men's college basketball events at its Wide World of Sports in Florida. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Clint Overby, vice president of ESPN Events, told The Athletic the decision to cancel was made now so teams can find new games.

“We’ve decided to redirect our efforts to be sure the teams have enough time to make other plans,” he said. “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.”

The bubble was expected to run from Nov. 25 until early December, ESPN said. There is hope the Champions Classic and Jimmy V Classic will be played in 2020, only from a different location.

The Champions Classic features Michigan State vs. Duke and Kansas vs. Kentucky. The Jimmy V Classic was scheduled for Baylor vs. Illinois and Gonzaga vs. Tennessee.

COVID protocols create issues for ESPN bubble

Unlike the NBA or WNBA, which both successfully played in bubbles, there is more than one governing body to deal with when it comes to college basketball.

Per The Athletic, discussions disintegrated mainly because of strict re-testing rules ESPN was trying to abide by that aren’t used by some conferences. Overby said the 90-day testing protocol “became the key sticking point.”

ESPN wanted to go by the Centers for Disease Control and the NCAA guidelines that those who tested positive for COVID-19 be re-tested after the person was cleared for 90 days. The CDC found that “people appear to become susceptible to reinfection around 90 days after onset of infection.”

Another issue arose around what to do if a player tested positive at the site. ESPN reportedly leaned toward having the player quarantine in Orlando for 14 days, while some wanted teams to have the oversight so they could possibly return a player to school.

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