When the NCAA Tournament was canceled in March, Aari McDonald had a big choice: come back to school in hopes of getting Arizona women’s basketball back to the dance after a 15-year absence or forego her last year of eligibility to enter the WNBA Draft. Saying that the way things ended didn’t sit right with her, she returned. Now she and her teammates face the very real possibility of yet another season cut short.
The Pac-12 took a step beyond their Power 5 brethren by announcing that not only would all fall sports be, at best, postponed, but that winter sports would not start on time, either. While teams can continue with training, there will be no competition before January 1, 2021.
The Big Ten has postponed fall sports, but it has not yet made any changes to its basketball calendar. That leaves the Pac-12 the lone big conference taking this road.
Unless others join them later, it would be difficult to see the NCAA making changes to the NCAA Tournament simply for the sake of the Pac-12. The NCAA must consider the timelines of the NBA and WNBA drafts. It would be very difficult to push the tournament back too far.
What that means for Pac-12 teams like Arizona who are trying to get into the tournament is anyone’s guess. How will they be compared to teams from other leagues if those leagues play a full season and score some big out-of-conference wins?
The conference season usually begins during the last weekend of December on the women’s side. With no basketball competition in the fall and winter of 2020, the teams of the Pac-12 will be hard-pressed to play any non-conference games at all.
While Arizona officials have said not to automatically think there will be no non-conference play, that could be a very difficult task to pull off if most teams are already in the swing of conference play. Even moving the NCAA Tournament would be extremely hard. For players with WNBA aspirations, not only is the draft held in April but training camp would be early next year because of the postponed Olympics. Even in a normal season, camp begins in May.
The lack of non-conference play means being thrown into the deep end of a difficult conference with no real tune-up. For Arizona, it likely means the cancelation of important match-ups with Texas and Gonzaga that were supposed to strengthen the non-conference strength of schedule, as well. Arizona State has already canceled their big non-conference tilt against Notre Dame according to Jeff Metcalfe of the Arizona Republic.
The hardest hit by the league’s decision will be the seniors in those winter sports. Unlike their spring counterparts, they were not granted eligibility relief last year when the NCAA halted competition.
At Arizona, the class of McDonald, Sam Thomas and grad transfer Trinity Baptiste will have lost a postseason plus half a year of competition with no guarantees of getting any of that time back—if they even wanted to come back.
If the NCAA grants another year of eligibility to those players who are forced to miss part or all of the 2020-21 basketball season, it would still be difficult to see McDonald foregoing the WNBA yet again. She has stated that she was ready to go until her injury and the cancelation of the tournament last season. With her engagement last March, she also has a family to consider.
Then comes the question of scholarships and bottlenecks. If the NCAA grants the Pac-12's request for additional eligibility, that leaves both a financial hardship and a personnel glut for schools to figure out. The result for Arizona Softball was a drove of transfers out of the program.
None of these issues appear to worry head coach Adia Barnes, who has stated her support for the decision on Twitter several times. The disappointment for her athletes is weighing on her mind, however.
For now, Pac-12 schools are allowed to continue training based upon their individual re-entry plans and local regulations. Barnes, her staff and players will undoubtedly soldier on in that regard as the University lays out its path forward. The question is what are they training for?