Iona Gaels coach Rick Pitino calls for new start date and 'May Madness'

As college basketball officials struggle to create a plan for the season, one of the sport's most influential voices is calling for a new start date to "save the season" and a delay of the NCAA tournament.

Rick Pitino, who took over at Iona earlier this year, tweeted on Saturday that college basketball should create "May Madness" and move the Nov. 25 start of the season to accommodate the multitude of delays and challenges numerous teams have faced amid COVID-19.

Pitino also called for the elimination of all nonconference games in favor of a league-only slate.

Pitino is echoing what other coaches have conveyed privately.

One high-profile coach recently told ESPN that the current situation for college basketball is "scary." Another coach in a non-Power 5 league said he thinks it's "impossible" for his league to play.

Multiple programs have already been sidelined by the NCAA's recommended 14-day quarantine for teams after a player, coach or staffer (Tier I participants, per the guidelines) tests positive. Iona is currently sidelined for two weeks following a positive test.

Contact tracing has also been a challenge.

With the season set to begin in less than two weeks, dozens of schools have not released their schedules for the 2020-21 season. On Thursday, the Ivy League canceled all winter sports, including men's and women's basketball, amid the ongoing pandemic.

NCAA guidelines strongly encourage schools to test three times per week on nonconsecutive days during the season. The NCAA also recommends a two-week quarantine for positive tests. Those guidelines sometimes compete with local and state regulations.

In the American Athletic Conference, teams will test three times per week, but Temple must test its athletes seven consecutive days prior to competition under local rules in Philadelphia.

A non-Division I coach in Michigan, where state officials have labeled the sport as "high risk," said his league is preparing to have players compete in masks during games.

Both New Mexico State and New Mexico could be forced to relocate their teams this season due to state regulations on competition.

At UC Irvine, only six players were allowed to practice, each with his own hoop and basketball, for a chunk of the preseason.

Teams can't play a road game at Hawai'i unless they've received negative tests at least 72 hours prior to entering the island.

Ohio State recently withdrew from the Crossover Classic in South Dakota due to state guidelines of a 14-day quarantine for teams that travel to states with severe COVID-19 situations.

This week, South Dakota's positivity rate hovered above 50%, the highest rate in the country.

Per the ACC's new guidelines, any athlete who leaves campus for more than three days must quarantine for 24 hours before returning to practice or competition.

And then there is contact tracing, the most complicated and perhaps disruptive component for college basketball.

"Effective contact tracing is critical in breaking the chain of transmission and limiting the spread of infection for infectious diseases such as COVID-19," according to the NCAA's guidelines. "However, there is no federal oversight of contact tracing programs, and the number of contact tracers in this country is currently inadequate to effectively manage disease spread among individuals and groups of people with high-contact risk exposure. As a result, athletics departments, in consultation with institutional leadership, should consider evaluating the availability of and accessibility to local contact tracing resources."

In September, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA's senior vice president of men's basketball, conveyed the sport's need for flexibility. He said the announcement of the Nov. 25 start was fluid but added the "preference" was to host the NCAA tournament in its traditional slot in March and April.

However, after a source told ESPN this week that the NCAA might have more flexibility with the NCAA tournament, a spokesman responded that the game's power brokers continue to explore their options.

"Nothing has changed with regards to the committee's ongoing study of various contingency plans," David Worlock said.