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Winter storm forces basketball teams to alter travel plans

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Teams chasing a college basketball title are contending with an unexpected wrinkle that’s making last-minute travel plans difficult – a fierce storm bearing down on the Northeast that’s expected to dump up to two feet of snow in some places and create blizzard-like conditions.

Villanova, the top overall seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament, left Philadelphia Monday afternoon for Buffalo, New York, to get ahead of a storm that’s projected to last three days. The defending champion Wildcats, who play on Thursday, had an abbreviated press availability with coach Jay Wright, but no player interviews were granted as the team rushed to its flight.

“I’m not really looking forward to leaving right away. But it hits you with reality, you’re in it,” Wright said. “We’re going to be in Buffalo tonight and we’re playing and it’s on.”

On the women’s side, top team UConn was expected to find out Monday night which three teams would be expected to travel to Connecticut for tournament games later this week.

U.S. airlines had already begun canceling flights. Tracking service FlightAware.com said that more than 1,100 flights on Monday and more than 2,800 on Tuesday had been canceled.

Nobody was facing a more difficult week than Princeton, a school new to the scramble.

The Tigers beat Yale on Sunday for the title in the first Ivy League Tournament, where in previous years they would have clinched earlier by being unbeaten in the regular season.

The victory allowed for a brief celebration and not much more for Chris Mongilia, director of basketball operations for the Tigers.

“I kind of enjoyed it for a minute, and then my phone started ringing and emails started firing out, trying to figure out when we were going,” Mongilia said Monday. “We found out our flight time this morning. We’ve been booking buses and hotels. It’s been putting a lot of pressure on us to get everything done and organized. But yeah, it’s been crazy.”

Crazier still, the school is factoring in midterms for several players this week, squeezing them in before the team plays Notre Dame on Thursday in Buffalo. The team was scheduled to leave Tuesday.

“A lot of our guys are going to have to take exams proctored by a professor who is going to have to travel with us,” Mongilia said. “They are going to have to take them in a conference room up at the hotel in Buffalo. The storm has definitely put a few bumps in our travel plans.”

Providence was leaving Monday evening for Dayton, Ohio, for its Wednesday night matchup against Southern California in the First Four, and the Friars had no worries about cancellations because it takes charter flights for away games and can avoid the local airport, athletic director Bob Driscoll said.

“It’s good we’re getting out tonight because the snowstorm is coming tomorrow. It’ll be a different story,” Driscoll said. “People are excited to be in, so we’re locked and loaded and ready to leave. We’ve been working on it all night and all morning.”

The winter storm had already begun strafing the Midwest and was projected to begin sweeping through the New York region Monday night. Forecasters said it could dump up to two feet of snow across parts of New York and New Jersey. The National Weather Service issued blizzard watches for New York City and nearby areas, including Connecticut. The storm is expected to last into Wednesday in western New York with as much as 18 inches of snow.

For the NIT, Ole Miss was taking a charter flight on Monday for its Tuesday game at Monmouth in New Jersey. School officials said the storm pushed the travel timeline up a few hours.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was delayed getting on the Big 12 coaches weekly media call Monday because he was in a meeting with school officials to discuss the Mountaineers’ travel plans to Buffalo.

“Yeah, we are concerned,” Huggins said.

The school later announced it would take a bus more than 280 miles north to Buffalo on Monday night rather than leaving on Tuesday. West Virginia plays Thursday afternoon against Bucknell.

Virginia Tech also opted to leave after classes Monday, a day earlier than normal. The Hokies were to take a bus to Roanoke and fly to Buffalo before their game Thursday night against Wisconsin.

Airport officials in Buffalo said they would be able to handle the conditions.

“We’re always ready to do our best,” said Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which oversees the Buffalo-Niagara Airport. “We have a history of being prepared and keeping those runways open and safe.”

Syracuse also is in the storm’s path, predicted to receive more than one foot of snow, but the Orange aren’t going anywhere. Syracuse hosts UNC-Greensboro in a first-round game in the NIT on Tuesday night. The visit from the Spartans comes after Orange coach Jim Boeheim said there was “no value” in the Atlantic Coast Conference holding its postseason tournament in Greensboro.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.