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NCAA basketball game days are going to look a lot different this year

The governing authority on college sports has released guidelines regarding game day etiquette and responsibilities. It's going to change some things.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Xavier
Imagine all these guys in masks.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Because there is a pandemic on, the NCAA has outlined some guidance and recommendations for how things should be laid out in light of that on game days for basketball. They've probably done it for other sports, too, but I haven't looked into it because I don't care. If you want to read the whole thing, click here, but I'll break down the highlights for you below.

The first important bit of information is that people associated with the game day experience are broken into three tiers. The top tier (Tier 1) are the absolutely essential people. If you were taking an NCAA game to Rucker Park, these are the folks you'd need. It consists of players, coaches, trainers and medical staff, equipment people, and refs. The NCAA recommends this be limited to 25-30 people, though it's not specific if that's per game or per team. I assume it's per team though.

Tier 2 consists of people who have to have "close contact" with Tier 1 individuals but can reasonably do so at a social distance and while wearing a mask. The NCAA lists athletic department staff, event staff, league staff, and security people as examples. Basically when you take an NCAA game and bring it to a venue within a league and a school's orbit, these are the people who are necessarily involved.

Only Tier 1 and Tier 2 people are allowed in the "inner bubble," defined as the training room, the locker room, the court area, et c. Everyone else has to stay clear of that.

Tier 3 consists of people typically involved in a game day but with no operational need to be near Tier 1 personnel. Think of housekeeping, sanitation, et c. Media are also part of this tier. Tier 3 people are expected to minimize contact with Tier 2 people and exercise social distancing and masking at all times. If a Tier 3 person needs contact with a Tier 1 person, they are reclassified as Tier 2.

Most of that is behind the scenes; here is where we start getting to stuff that is going be noticably different on TV.

Bands and cheer groups are not in any tier; the NCAA recommends that visiting bands and cheer groups not travel. If the home team's band/cheer groups are present, they're classified as Tier 2.

Spectators are not part of any tier. It will be up to individual host venues to comply with local mandates when setting rules for spectation. The NCAA does stipulate that all spectators must remain well clear of all tiered individuals at all times.

Both mask wearing and social distancing are recommended for everyone - including Tier 1 individuals - prior to entry and within the competition venue. The recommendations also state that "universal masking and social distancing are the rule except in the competition or medical care areas." This seems to indicate to me that, once players hit the floor for warmups, they're good to go unmasked while they're hooping and whatnot (maybe; more on this in a minute). Refs, however, are expected to wear masks no matter what except during the actual competition.

Players have a lot of expectations, ranging from the realistic to the ridiculous. They're reminded to avoid touching their eyes, noses, and mouths and to minimize physical interactions with members of other teams. So you can battle under the basket for position with another dude for 40 minutes, but don't give him a fist bump after the game. Also, don't wipe the sweat off your face.

Other guidelines for players make more sense to me. Players are supposed to not share towels or water bottles, and use single-use disposable water containers when possible.

Bench layouts are going to be crazy. If there's room, they should be socially distanced "with appropriate room between seats," even if that necessitates multiple rows. It is also recommended that seats be assigned, with each player's water and towel at his seat. No more water guys and gals, either; each player has to grab his own bottle and towel. For timeouts, moveable chairs are recommended so that at the end of each timeout, those specific chairs can be taken away and sanitized before the next stoppage in play.

The recommendations also state that they "require that all bench personnel who are not on the court should always wear masks/face coverings." The wording on here raises the question for me regarding what exactly a bench personnel is. Does it include the coaching staff? Managers/trainers? Players who aren't in the game? If it's everyone except the five people playing, that's going to be wild.

There are some other technical rules, ranging from spacing out the scorer's table and having the broadcast teams on the other side of the court from it to rules about ingress/egress. It's pretty dense and won't have much of an impact on the average viewer.

I think my main takeaway from these rules is that they represent someone's good-faith best effort at resolving the dichotomy between the desire to remain safe in a highly infectious and not entirely understood pandemic and the desire to have college hoops. I don't think that's a tension that can be entirely handled, and it is always going to result in some rules that don't make a lot of sense. Limiting contact to facilitate a contact sport is a mission that is absurd on its face, and - though I'm as eager to call out the NCAA for its various wrongs as the next guy - it would behoove us all to do our best to concede a little understanding where we can.

Hopefully this all works and we get treated to some reasonable facsimile of a normal season. Wear those masks and keep your distance; in less than a month, the ball (hopefully) goes up.