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The college basketball season is supposed to tip off in less than a month, and Tom Izzo still does not know who Michigan State’s first opponent will be.
That’s because the Spartans’ schedule, like most other programs around Division I, remains under construction due to the pandemic.
“We're hoping in the next few days we're gonna have it pretty much locked down,” Izzo said Thursday. “But it could be one of those schedules that's changing as we go, believe it or not, other than the conference games. We just want to do everything we can do to get a full season in.”
The NCAA pushed back the season to open with a Nov. 25 start date that allows teams to schedule a maximum of 27 games, fewer than in recent years. There will be no preseason scrimmages or exhibition games.
MSU’s anticipated opener in Orlando – where ESPN was attempting to create its own mini-bubble of sorts for multiteam events – was canceled along with other tournaments. That again disrupted planning for the Spartans’ opener, which originally was supposed to be vs. Duke on Nov. 10 in Chicago as part of the Champions Classic.
Izzo believes that game will be played “somewhere,” as well as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, with the likely opponent Virginia. The Hall of Fame coach also said the Spartans have talked with Notre Dame about being regional opponents, depending on how many nonconference games are needed. There also have been discussions about MSU hosting a multiteam event and other MTE options, though it remains unclear if the Big Ten will even permit them based on testing protocol and guidelines.
“We are trying to look at, can we schedule a few more games semilocally, which around here would be Eastern (Michigan), Western (Michigan), Central (Michigan), Oakland, Notre Dame – teams that are in a couple hour radius here, so that you can travel by bus, both for cost reasons and for not having to fly as much,” Izzo said.
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As for the Big Ten conference schedule, that also remains in flux. Izzo said the 14 Big Ten coaches were on a video call Thursday morning and have been meeting twice a week with Big Ten staff to work through scenarios, possibilities and feasibilities. He believes the league could expand by two to a 22-game schedule this winter to limit travel, which is the difference between seeking five and seven nonconference opponents. He said creative solutions such as running a Big Ten bubble or working together in pods of four teams have been mentioned but not fully explored.
Kevin Pauga, MSU’s associated athletic director for administration, has "been working morning, noon and night, on the schedules and different ways to schedule,” Izzo said.
“The biggest deal is to make sure we keep everybody safe and healthy,” he said. “If we've learned anything in the last eight months, we've got to stay flexible.”
And patient, he added, after seeing Wisconsin shut down its football activities Wednesday and cancel its game against Nebraska for this weekend after a COVID-19 outbreak. Izzo said keeping athletes on campus over Christmas break instead of sending them home is a possibility, with schools working to schedule more games in December and early January to ease the burden on campuses when and if students come back for spring semester.
These are complicated issues the Big Ten is trying to work through with time running low.
“It's been frustrating for us,” Izzo said. “I mean, we're practicing and can't even say we're opening with so and so or we're doing this the first week. That's been a little challenging, to say the least. … Understand that nobody wants to practice for six, seven weeks, including the coaches without a game.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball's Tom Izzo hopes schedule issues solved soon