The Florida Gators men’s basketball team was set to begin its season last week at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut by taking on two teams within the “Bubbleville” concept — and though those games were both cancelled in the wake of Florida pausing team activities due to positive COVID-19 tests and quarantine protocols, the Gators seemingly will be starting their 2020-21 campaign in the Nutmeg State with a pair of contests.
It’s just that these teams will be completely different from the two that were set to take the floor opposite Florida, and the Gators had to reschedule another non-conference game for another year entirely to do so.
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports — whose infamous Twitter presence is as much a compilation of fortune cookie wisdom and attempts to make fetch happen as ever — was first to report on Sunday afternoon that Florida would be heading to the Mohegan Sun after all. But his original tweet indicating that the Gators would be cancelling their scheduled trip to play a December 5 game against Oklahoma and instead meeting Army and Boston College in Connecticut would be deleted, and later replaced by one without specifics on Florida’s opponents.
Sources: Florida is heading to Mohegan Sun for two games this week. The start of the Gators' home-and-home series with Oklahoma has been pushed to the 21-22 season.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 29, 2020
Oklahoma would then issue a tweet confirming the plan to cancel this year’s meeting and roll it into a 2021-22 schedule, which Florida retweeted to confirm from its side, but did not issue a fuller statement on.
Oklahoma and Florida have mutually agreed to cancel the men’s basketball game scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 2.— Oklahoma Basketball (@OU_MBBall) November 29, 2020
The start of the home-and-home series between the Sooners and Gators will be pushed back to next season.
Shortly afterward, CBS Sports’s Matt Norlander produced the reporting on specifics of Florida’s games against Army and Boston College — which will, per Norlander, take place on Wednesday and Thursday.
More: Florida is going to play Army on Wed., Boston College most likely on Friday at Mohegan, sources say. Sounds like Florida-BC on Thursday is still possible, but Friday is the target as of this hour. Gators originally planned to come to play UVA, had COVID pause, now back in.— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) November 29, 2020
Update: Boston College-Florida is firmly (as firmly as these things go) scheduled to happen Thursday. That was agreed to a short while ago. So the Gators will have games on back-to-back days.— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) November 30, 2020
If all that sounds confusing to you, consider this:
- Florida was set to be part of the Bubbleville Pod One event last week, along with Maine, Saint Peter’s, and Virginia. None of the scheduled four games (Florida vs. Maine, Virginia vs. Saint Peter’s, Florida vs. Virginia, and Maine vs. Saint Peter’s) between those two teams occurred; Virginia, the only team to make it to the Mohegan Sun, played hastily-scheduled games against Towson and San Francisco, losing to the latter; Saint Peter’s played St. John’s and La Salle in a hastily-constructed event at St. John’s; Florida is just now coming out of its COVID-related pause; Maine will not play until at least next Wednesday, two weeks after its original season opener.
- In the midst of all of that, Maine was replaced by UMass Lowell on Florida’s schedule (and, in spirit, in the Bubbleville Pod One event) — but the Spinners didn’t ultimately play any of the four original Bubbleville Pod One teams at the Mohegan Sun, instead meeting San Francisco and upsetting the Dons before their later upset of Virginia. The Spinners then departed for Ohio State, where they would take two losses in a weekend event in Columbus.
- Boston College has already played twice at the Mohegan Sun, making a run at Villanova and defeating Rhode Island, and is scheduled to play another game there on Monday — against St. John’s, which won that hastily-constructed event on its own floor, and will make just a one-game stay in Bubbleville before heading to Texas Tech. (St. John’s other two non-conference road games are also familiar Florida foes, as the Red Storm are set to visit UConn and Butler in mid-December.)
- Florida is now on its fourth potential season-opening opponent, having cycled through Maine, UMass Lowell, and Oklahoma before getting to Army.
- Army is 3-0 for the first time in five years, a cool feat for the Black Knights — except two of the three wins are over the Division III U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which has not won more than 10 games in its last four seasons, and Division I cellar-dweller Central Connecticut State, which hasn’t had a winning record since 2011 despite now being coached by UConn legend Donyell Marshall. Edging Buffalo in Bubbleville is admittedly an impressive third victory for Jimmy Allen’s bunch, but making 70 percent of their twos had a lot to do with that, and likely isn’t sustainable.
- While Florida was apparently making plans to fly to the Mohegan Sun and hoop, conference mate Vanderbilt was pulling out of its own visit to Bubbleville, withdrawing from the Legends Classic. But Florida isn’t taking the place of the Commodores in that event — which would likely have meant playing games against two of BYU, UConn, or USC — despite the logic behind a possible simple switch, and is instead sliding into the event along with Boston College ... for a game played a day after St. John’s slides into the event.
- Yes, that means St. John’s and Boston College will meet at the Mohegan Sun and then play in the same event days later while not meeting in that event.
- One wonders if UConn’s abrupt cancellation of a game with Florida might have something to do with Florida not sliding into Vandy’s spot. Regardless of any possible truth there, though, factoring in that cancellation means that all of Florida’s first four initially scheduled games this fall have been cancelled, with one — the Maine opener that turned into the UMass Lowell opener — effectively being cancelled twice.
Crystal clear, right?
On a very superficial level, maybe remaking a first fortnight of a schedule on the fly isn’t that surprising in the context of a college sports schedule ravaged by COVID-19.
Florida’s football and soccer programs had multiple games rescheduled by COVID-related concerns this fall, and of the four traditional fall sports — cross country, football, soccer, and volleyball — for which Florida fields teams, only volleyball — which played an ultra-compressed eight-game schedule consisting of four weekend doubleheaders — completed its abridged season without any interruptions or cancellations.
(Florida’s women’s cross country team didn’t have enough runners available to compete for team placement in its home meet; the Gators’ men’s and women’s golf, swimming and diving, and tennis teams have all begun or completed fall schedules, but those slates complement their usual spring-based regular seasons even in the best of times.)
And the only other traditional winter sports program to see a field of play this year for the Gators, Florida’s women’s basketball program, had only barely started its season by trouncing Grambling last Wednesday before announcing that its meeting with Florida State would be postponed indefinitely. These cancellations and reschedulings are going to keep coming as long as games continue to be scheduled.
But the sheer scope of the college basketball season — which is scheduled to be not totally dissimilar from a regular season without a pandemic raging, and expected by all involved to be decimated again and again — is unlike that of anything yet attempted in North American sports during this pandemic, is coming at the worst hour of said pandemic thus far, and is expected to proceed despite the near-certainty of post-Thanksgiving and post-Christmas spikes in cases.
When someone as connected to the dark heart of college basketball as Rick Pitino is loudly calling bullshit on the sport’s endeavor, there may perhaps be some merit to the idea that the sport has adopted a strategy disconnected from the realm of reason.