Tech-UGA men’s hoops game in jeopardy as schedules come together

December 22, 2018 Atlanta - Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner shouts instructions in the first half at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion on Saturday, December 22, 2018. Georgia won 70-59 over the Georgia Tech. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
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December 22, 2018 Atlanta - Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner shouts instructions in the first half at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion on Saturday, December 22, 2018. Georgia won 70-59 over the Georgia Tech. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The annual basketball game between the Georgia Tech and Georgia men could go the way of this year’s football game.

With their non-conference schedules undone and uncertainty abounding, Tech basketball coaches Nell Fortner and Josh Pastner have scrambled to put together non-conference schedules with time running down before the start of the season.

The haste was prompted by the NCAA moving the start of the men’s and women’s seasons from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25 out of a desire to concentrate non-conference games to a time when college student bodies are away from campus and thus play them in a safer environment. Where games often are scheduled one or two years in advance, now Fortner said she has found herself dialing colleagues to see if they have openings for a possible game two months away.

The games that had been scheduled to be played before Nov. 25 and the remainder of the non-conference games have been tossed into the air, requiring both teams to either reschedule existing opponents or find new opponents as different variables shift about. Perhaps most significantly, for Pastner’s team it means that the annual game with UGA is in jeopardy.

Pastner said that both he and Bulldogs coach Tom Crean want to play the game, which has been played annually since 1925, but they’re having difficulty finding a date that works for both.

“There’s going to be things out of our control,” Pastner said.

Should it fail to materialize, it would follow the fate of the Tech-UGA football game, which also had been played annually since 1925 until the SEC’s decision to play a conference-only schedule led to its cancellation for this season.

Fortner said that she is hopeful that her team will be able to play UGA, extending a series that has been played regularly since the 1974-75 season and annually since the 1998-99 season.

Both teams are also trying to nail down dates for other games while dealing with other constraints – Tech’s final exam period is Dec. 1-8, there is an NCAA-mandated three-day window around Christmas when players have to be off and both teams may play ACC games in December.

The last hurdle likely will preempt the Tech men’s Dec. 16 home game against Georgia State, the first of a three-game series with the Panthers, as Pastner said that Tech may be playing an ACC game that day. Tech and Georgia State have not met in the regular season since December 2008.

“You just can’t schedule a game if you end up having an ACC game that day,” Pastner said. “You can’t schedule a game if you’re going to have an ACC game the next day, either.”

Tech also will not play the invitational event in which it was to play Stanford in New York. The Hall of Fame Invitational has moved to Connecticut, but the Jackets are passing. Pastner said that the team will not fly for a nonconference game unless it’s for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, a decision made for both budgetary and health reasons. The ACC-Big Ten Challenge likely will be played early-to-mid December, but neither a location nor an opponent has been set. The Jackets played Nebraska last year at home, beating the Cornhuskers 73-56.

Tech’s anticipated game against Kentucky, originally scheduled for Nov. 27 at State Farm Arena, will be moved to Dec. 6, event organizer Chris Williams said.

As games come together, a question that looms over both coaches and all of college basketball is how many of those games – along with the league games to follow – will actually be played.

The reason is the NCAA’s guidance on basketball regarding COVID-19 testing. The advisory states that if any player or staff member with regular, direct access to the team tests positive, then “schools should consider” a 14-day quarantine for the entire team and essential personnel.

Further, if Team A plays Team B and a player on Team B is found after the game to have tested positive, then both teams should be in placed in quarantine, following CDC guidance. At present, enabling teams to “test out” of quarantine with negative tests is not considered an option.

Should that protocol remain in place, it won’t be just a 14-day stoppage, as Pastner sees it, but more like 21 days, as teams would have to regain their conditioning base and practice before playing again. Being sidelined for 21 days could mean five games out the window, perhaps because a single opposing player tested positive.

For this season, the NCAA instituted a rule that a team will have to play a minimum of 13 games to be considered for the NCAA tournament. There was reason for setting the bar so low.

“It’s a real possibility that’s going to be hard for a lot of teams to get to 13 games,” Pastner said.

The potential for a negative test to throw a season into chaos has cast a specter over the teams' preparations and scheduling as Pastner and Fortner try to put together non-conference schedules that will test their teams' capacities, but also that will give them the best chance to avoid COVID-19.

“It’s a ghost,” Pastner said. “You can do everything you can to mitigate, but it comes down, really, to luck. You can do everything, but still get it.”

As such, confirming the testing protocol of potential opponents is nothing to be glossed over. While it isn’t certain if there will be a women’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge – as there will be for the men – Fortner was hopeful that the series will be played in part because the Big Ten’s testing protocol likely will be as stringent as the ACC’s.

“I don’t care if we’re playing the Los Angeles Lakers,” Pastner said. “Whoever we play, they’re going to have to meet the ACC and Georgia Tech medical protocols.”

Pastner said that he’s also trying to build the non-conference schedule in a way that it will be easier to play replacement or make-up games if necessary.

“That’s the biggest thing, you have to prepare for cancellations this year,” he said. “Do you have open windows to move games into in case games get canceled?”

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