Villanova head basketball coach Jay Wright and the Wildcats had plenty of momentum going into the month of March in the 2019-20 season. With a share of the Big East regular season title and a shot at a fifth conference tournament title in the last six seasons, Villanova never even got a chance to defend its crown due to the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the nation.
As the status of upcoming professional and college sports seasons are uncertain for the rest of the calendar year, one of the conversations being had at both levels is whether or not teams will be able to hold fans inside their arenas and stadiums. Wright is doubtful fans will be present for the upcoming college basketball season.
“I can’t see, right now, having fans (this upcoming season,” Wright said in a Zoom call with the media yesterday where sophomore forward Saddiq Bey declared for the NBA Draft. “College basketball is up in the air.”
If and when the college basketball season starts on time in November, Wright mentioned that games with no fans in the arena would resemble the closed scrimmages that Villanova has held with other top-flight programs during the preseason in previous years.
“Players and coaches would be far less impacted than you would ever think by having fans there,” Wright said. “I mean, we love it. But no one gets to see these scrimmages we play against opposing teams with no one in the gym…The two teams are just sparring, it’s kind of cool.”
This is not the first time the idea of playing without fans has been considered. Before the college basketball season was canceled, the NCAA initially implemented the idea of playing its national tournament in March without fans in the stands of arenas for each round. At the time, Wright was in favor of the idea. Once COVID-19 reached a pandemic level and a national state of emergency was declared, the NCAA shut down the rest of its winter championships and spring seasons.
“This is a big issue in our country,” Wright said once the season was shut down in March. “It’s a serious issue. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
On May 20, the NCAA announced its student-athletes can return to campus on June 1 in preparation of their respective sports seasons as long as they follow state-mandated health guidelines. For Wright and his Wildcats, his players are staying home and communicating with him and the rest of the coaching staff virtually through Zoom, FaceTime and phone calls.
“They’re all at home and they’re working out on their own,” Wright said in the Zoom call yesterday. “We suggest workouts to them, but they have to do them all on their own.”
Since the University has not announced anything official in terms of a return to Villanova’s campus, Wright and his staff are preparing as if the start of the academic semester in August will be the first time they will see their players.
“We don’t have any timeline yet for when the players could get back,” Wright said. “We’re just going through protocols.”