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ESPN Bursts the Orlando Bubble

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Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule is in major flux once again now that ESPN is abandoning its plans for a college basketball bubble in Orlando.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at San Diego Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The college basketball season is scheduled to (belatedly) tip off on November 25 and all eyes were set to be turned to Orlando where 10 different multi-team events (MTE) owned by ESPN where planned to be hosted. In a report by The Athletic’s Seth Davis, ESPN is abandoning the Orlando Bubble, as it has come to be known, in light of significant issues in reaching a consensus health protocol and aligning the varying interests and requirements of more than 24 schools who were supposed to participate.

Gonzaga, of course, was one of the schools scheduled to head to the Orlando Bubble. The Zags were slated to play Auburn and then one of Texas Tech/Houston in a second game, before concluding with Tennessee. The Tennessee game may still be in the cards at a different location, as it was a game created through the Jimmy V Invitational and Rick Barnes still seems to be open to making it happen, but Gonzaga will need to scramble if it wants to come up with alternatives for the two preceding games.

Since the Zags were already planning to head to Indianapolis after Orlando to play Baylor on December 5 in a neutral site contest, the Hoosier state may be where the Tennessee game ultimately happens.

According to Davis’s report, the main issue with the Orlando Bubble came down to testing protocols:

The plans broke down mainly because ESPN was trying to abide by guidelines handed down by the Centers for Disease Control and the NCAA, which are more restrictive than the protocols many conferences are planning to implement. The biggest point of contention was ESPN’s desire to stick by the guideline stating that anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus must be re-tested after that person has been clear for 90 days. Several schools balked at the idea of retesting players that soon. “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.”

An NCAA bubble with participants from differing conferences and with varying resources and budgets was also going to be difficult to pull off, so once again, Gonzaga and the rest of the college basketball world will be scrambling once again in 2020 to figure out how to properly piece a season together.

There has been some scuttlebutt, as of late, from college presidents suggesting conference play only. At the moment all signs point to the Zags continuing to forge ahead with a non-conference schedule. What that will look like, however, is a complete mystery.