PHILADELPHIA (CBS)- Since the NCAA Tournament was cancelled in March, the college basketball world has been in a prolonged offseason. But, like other sports, due to the coronavirus pandemic that offseason has been largely virtual.
For Villanova head coach Jay Wright, that hasn’t been all bad. The Wildcats coach told Brian Custer on The Last Stand podcast that the video conference meetings he’s been having with recruits offer a less formal and more inviting atmosphere as both sides can be more of themselves.
“It’s almost like you’re getting – my dog will jump into the shot every once in awhile – and everybody is just more relaxed, you’re more human,” said Wright. “It’s not like they’re coming to your school, you’re the coach and you’re walking around with everyone like ‘hi coach’. You’re sitting in your house, they’re in their house. In that sense, you’re connecting pretty well with these guys.”
It’s that comfort level and the ability to cut down on the costs of in-home visits that makes Wright think the video conference meetings with recruits may be here to stay for good, even after the COVID-19 pandemic has dissipated.
“The Zoom meetings with recruits and their families has really been an interesting part. I think this is something that stays with recruiting,” said Wright. “I know the NCAA is always looking at cost cutting those periods where were doing home visits, you can save a lot of money with these Zoom meetings. They are very effective.”
Now, as with any technology, there are also downsides to this version of recruiting. There is something to be said Wright points out, for getting a recruit on campus and seeing how he interacts with the rest of the team.
“Our recruiting is more evaluating the player. We would be watching them in the spring and really evaluating them to explain how they would fit in,” said Wright. “And then, getting them on campus and evaluating them as young men and as students. See how they relate to our guys and that has been a challenge for us that we can’t do it that way.”
Recruiting is one thing, but the big question looming over all of college athletics at the moment is whether or not it will be both safe and reasonable to play out the football and basketball seasons with the pandemic continuing to rage in the U.S. For Wright, he said that he’s preparing as if the team won’t be back on campus until the fall at the earliest. He doesn’t believe the summer is possible, particularly for states in the Northeast which have been hit hard by the virus to this point. Still, Wright is also preparing for the possibility that the season doesn’t start until later than normal.
“We’ve talked to our team about that in terms of, we’re going to have to really be focused and personally disciplined to get ourselves as prepared as we can to come back in the fall. Now, we’re preparing for that, but I think we all have to be ready that there’s a possibility that that might not happen too. One of the things I have thought about as a coach and talking to our staff about is, even if we have to go back to the old school start on October 15th and have a totally different preseason than we’re used to having, we have to be prepared for that,” said Wright. “Worst case scenario right now and possible is you start January 1 with conference play and you don’t play preseason. If they have to move the football season back and you know, there’s only so many windows they can fit things on TV, if they move the football season back for whatever reason they may start the basketball season later. I think we have to at least think that’s a possibility.”
Even if the season is able to start on time, it would seem that playing games in front of full arenas is out of the question. It’s entirely possible that any games played would have to be completely behind closed doors. However, Wright doesn’t believe that will have much of an effect on the competitiveness of games.
“I think for the players and coaches, I don’t think that’s a big deal. We love playing in the big crowds and live for it. A few years ago now, we started these scrimmages where you can scrimmage another team and no one can see it,” said Wright. “I’ve always come away from those thinking, ‘man if anyone could see this.’ We were down at North Carolina last year and it was a bloodbath. I think we’ve proven, you put us in a gym against each other and we’re going to go at it. So maybe, if they can do that for TV I think people will still appreciate it.”