Why the NCAA faces unique challenges as it pursues the return of March Madness

WVU Basketball

"Bubble" setting could keep student-athletes safer, but could also create new roadblocks

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Even though some professional leagues have had success with postseason bubbles amid the pandemic, the NCAA likely faces unique challenges in creating a similar setup, according to one of the leaders of West Virginia’s pandemic response. 

Last month, the NCAA announced that it will hold its Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in one geographic location. The association has indicated it is targeting the Indianapolis area for its men’s tournament and the San Antonio region for the women’s championship. 

But Dr. Clay Marsh, WVU vice president and executive dean for health sciences, thinks that the NCAA will face challenges that the NBA didn’t when it successfully named a champion over the summer in its postseason bubble in Orlando, Florida. 

The key difference between the two scenarios: the NBA’s players aren’t amateur athletes. 

That’s why, according to Marsh, an NCAA Tournament bubble must cater specifically to the needs of student-athletes, while also keeping them safe.

“I think the more you can restrict the interface between people, the better,” Marsh said. “The challenge is, though, obviously, if you’ve got NBA players who are paid to do this, you can more easily kind of keep everybody together. We have student-athletes, but they are student-athletes. They’re not getting paid to play. They are learners. They are taking tests. We’ll have to make sure they’ll have the experience on that side of the coin, too.” 

Marsh also thinks there’s a valuable lesson WVU fans can learn from a fall like no other: don’t take sports for granted, and cherish every moment.

“We are all so privileged to be able to go to a great university, to represent that university for our students that are that talented on the athletic field, but I think a lot of times, we take for granted those kind of liberties and those experience,” Marsh said. “I think this year has taught us how precious all experiences are.” 

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