Given the overall success of the NBA Bubble in Orlando, Florida to finish out the 2019-2020 season, it made a lot of sense in September when word got out that ESPN was moving 10 early-season college basketball tournaments to Orlando as well in order to minimize COVID-19 concerns and cut overall costs.

The Champions Classic, Charleston Classic, Myrtle Beach Invitational, NIT Season Tip-Off, Wooden Legacy, Orlando Invitational, Jimmy V Classic, and Diamond Head Classic were all expected to move to the ESPN Wide World of Sports property at Walt Disney World, a perfectly realized effort of corporate synergy. Plus, some of the biggest names in college basketball would be involved, including Duke, Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky, Georgetown, UCLA, Virginia, Gonzaga, and more.

The TV schedule for all of these games sounds daunting, if not exciting, for college basketball fans. Games are currently scheduled to begin on November 25 and these tournaments would overlap over the course of two weeks. With so many games to play, it was noted that “up to three games going on at once” was a distinct possibility, making it a potential boon for ESPN’s networks and streaming service.

However, CBS Sports Senior writer and college hoops analyst Matt Norlander took to Twitter on Sunday with a thread that cast plenty of doubt on most, if not all, of these tournaments happening here. Per Norlander’s sources, “widespread concern is quickly escalating over the stability — if not survival — of every Orlando-based ESPN event.”

At the heart of the issue for most schools, per Norlander, is Disney’s COVID-19 protocols that come with the Orlando event. As every school has its own protocols in place, moving to a different system could create confusion as well as a lack of flexibility, not to mention concerns over liability if a coach or player tests positive for COVID-19 while in the bubble.

“One rule: if someone in your traveling party tests positive for COVID, you have to be quarantined in Orlando for 14 days at the team’s expense…Anyone who is 91 days or more removed from a positive COVID test has to be tested again…The Big 12 and SEC have not committed to the 90-day CDC rule yet, per sources.”

You can see where this creates a lot of liability issues for the schools. If a player tests positive, that means they’re going to have to remain in the bubble for an additional two weeks, which not only affects their ability to play beyond the bubble but likely balloons costs. As many of these schools have other games scheduled around these tournaments, they’re being asked to be responsible to ESPN and Disney in a way that might not be worth their time or potential headaches, especially if they can’t control the testing process as they have been.

According to Norlander, many of the schools involved are reportedly reaching out to other Florida schools as back-up options if the tournament doesn’t happen or they end up backing out over the concerns. Some schools are even reportedly speaking to one another about just playing games on their own and, per Norlander, two big names have already decided to opt-out but haven’t announced it yet.

Those schools are not, apparently, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, or Michigan State, all of whom will play in the Champions Classic, no matter how it happens.

Norlander adds that it remains possible that ESPN could just move some or all of these tournaments out of Disney altogether (which probably wouldn’t sit well with the mouse folks), but that feels relatively unlikely.

We can expect to hear a lot more about this in the week ahead as we’re literally weeks away from when the college basketball season is set to start. If these dominoes do fall as Norlander lays them out, it’s unclear how that will affect ESPN’s college basketball inventory over that time. We’d have to imagine a lot of contingency plans are being put into place and will continue to do so as certain schools make decisions to opt-out or change schedules.

[Matt Norlander]

About Sean Keeley

A graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Keeley is the creator of the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and author of 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse related things for SB Nation, Curbed, Neighborhoods.com, and many other outlets. He currently lives in Chicago.