Mike Brey: ‘We can’t miss another NCAA Tournament’ — meaning Notre Dame, and everyone else

Mike Brey doesn’t know if March Madness 2021 will be in March, April, May or July. He knows two things for certain, though: It most definitely needs to happen at some point, and the Fighting Irish need to be in it.

“Everything has raced through my mind: Do we start basketball Dec. 1 with games? Do we just play a league schedule?” Brey asked on a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday. “I’m just speculating about that, but I think they’ll figure it out to have an NCAA Tournament. Because we can’t miss it again. Will it be April Madness instead of March Madness? Will it be May Madness if football is pushed back?

“Again, I don’t have any information on this. But I’m trying to speculate and be ready. And I’m sure the NCAA is doing that, too, with contingency plans. Because we can’t miss another NCAA Tournament: Meaning Notre Dame, but also the sport in general.”

The Irish haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2017. The 2018 and ’19 teams were severely damaged by injuries, but the 2020 team likely would have missed, as well, had the event gone forward as planned.

The 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck the sports world hard the prior day when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus and the NBA chose to suspend its season soon afterward. It was the first time the tournament had been called off in its history; it was played through four years of World War II.

The NCAA was able to recover some of its lost revenue through insurance, but it was reported in late March the organization would reduce financial distribution to its member schools by $375 million, to $225 million total.

With the future of the pandemic uncertain, universities have not yet announced plans on opening campuses in the fall. There is a possibility that will not happen, which certainly would lead to college football season being postponed, perhaps to the spring. There is a possibility campuses could open but football still be delayed.

In the climate of reduced revenue, Brey was asked if there might be a push to schedule more home-and-home series rather than guaranteed home games — the practice in which a school with the Irish’s resources pays an opponent to play at the Joyce Center but does not agree to visit that school’s gym. Brey said the Irish still are working on three or four more games to complete their 2020-21 schedule.

“There’s so much unknown,” Brey said. “I think you have to have an open mind to everything for your budget, to help your athletic department because we’re all going to be in a crunch.

“We are holding at 11 scholarships right now. We’re still recruiting, but unless it’s a great fit, it wouldn’t be bad on the budget if we didn’t have to pay for another scholarship or two. That’s the world we’re in right now, as we move into the next academic year. To add another guy, it’s got to be a can’t miss-guy.

“All of us, in every athletic department, budget-conscious has been the marching orders from our bosses. …”

Brey is certain of only this: College basketball programs wouldn’t need a whole lot of warning to start playing again.

“Here’s the one thing about basketball as opposed to football. Basketball guys, kind of, are in shape year-round,” Brey said. “We go on foreign tours in the summer and play three games. We scrimmage. Basketball guys can come back two weeks of hooping and running and then they’re ready to play Syracuse. ‘Let’s go, Coach.’

“Basketball is nimble. We don’t need a lot of equipment. We need a ball. We need a couple hoops. And we can be balling a little bit. Football, as we know, is a whole ‘nother animal.”

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