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Greensboro Coliseum makes pitch to become bubble site for ACC basketball

Greensboro Coliseum makes pitch to become bubble site for ACC basketball

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GREENSBORO — If college basketball chooses to follow the pandemic model set forth by the NBA or NHL, then the Greensboro Coliseum would like to be one of the “bubble” sites.

That’s a big “if” at this point. The NCAA Council meets today to begin discussions on when the basketball season will start and what it might look like. From there, recommendations go to the NCAA Board of Directors.

But if bubbles are the future, the city is ready.

Coliseum staff have come up with a plan and cost estimates to create a six-week environment for an ACC basketball season for its men’s and/or women’s teams.

In an Aug. 31 memo to Paul Brazeau, the ACC’s associate commissioner for men’s basketball, Coliseum deputy director Scott Johnson outlined concepts, proposals and costs for a compressed basketball season that would limit exposure to the outside world as it deals with the global coronavirus pandemic.

Under the proposal, the Coliseum’s arena, the Fieldhouse and the Special Events Center could host games and practices from Nov. 23 through Jan. 10, 2021, at an estimated total cost of $710,000 to the league.

“Our understanding,” Johnson wrote, “is the premise would be the teams, referees, staff, TV, etc. would stay at one hotel, the Sheraton, and the ‘bubble’ would be the Sheraton, on a bus to/from the Coliseum Complex and playing games or practices in the Fieldhouse and Greensboro Coliseum. The intention may be to play regular-season games from Thanksgiving through early January and the games would be televised or tape delayed.”

It’s a model similar to what has worked for the NBA in Orlando, Fla., and the NHL in its Canadian hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto.

The difference is those are pro leagues while college players are also students who take classes, although much or all of this “bubble” could be held between semesters.

“Things are only in the conceptual stages right now,” Coliseum managing director Matt Brown said Tuesday. “It’s really up to the ACC and the other leagues. But we wanted to portray that we were enthusiastically ready, willing and able to assist both the men’s and women’s ACC in any concept they would pursue with regard to their seasons, their conference-only seasons or their tournaments. … Greensboro really cares.”

The Coliseum hosted this year’s ACC Tournament in mid-March, which was stopped in the quarterfinals when the sports world shut down amid the spreading coronavirus pandemic.

But now, the success of the NBA and NHL “bubbles” of sequestered athletes showed a path to Major League Baseball and the NFL to play games in stadiums empty of fans. Some college football leagues have resumed as well.

That’s created interest in a college basketball bubble.

The memo outlines a 48-day window in which the Coliseum arena and the Fieldhouse would host five games per day.

“It will be the ACC’s decision,” Johnson wrote, “as to games’ times and whether this is all men or some joint use for women’s games.”

The rent and overhead cost estimates:

• $82,000 for the Coliseum ($1,700 per day)

• $48,000 for the Fieldhouse ($1,000 per day)

• $28,000 for the Special Events Center practice courts ($1,000 per day for four weeks)

In addition, two practice courts — with old UNCG and Coliseum floors — could be installed in the Koury Convention Center.

“We have the options of making that ‘bubble’ setting either in the Coliseum arena, or the Fieldhouse, or both,” Brown said. “We have the ability to put practice courts up in the Special Events Center. The Koury Corporation was willing to put up two courts in the (Sheraton) ballroom so the kids who are housed in the ‘bubble’ could play pickup games or have shootarounds as a team.

“In this world of unknown, I believe having a sense of comfort where people appreciate and value ACC basketball, that they would feel comfortable in Greensboro.”

The largest costs in the proposal come from staffing expenses for what would routinely be 14-hour days. The total estimate there is roughly $447,000 if games and practices are held in all Coliseum Complex venues.

There’s an additional $100,000 projected to cover cleaning costs that would meet CDC standards.

Costs for housing the teams are beyond the Coliseum’s purview and would have to be figured out by the league. The Koury Corp. has the Sheraton Four Seasons, the Grandover Resort and Holiday Inn hotels.

“One thing we understand,” Brown said, “is just how difficult it will be for athletes to be playing in a venue without an audience. … Our people who would work with staging the games understand our history, our association and our relationship with the ACC. I know they would go to great lengths to make sure the teams and everybody involved had a really first-class experience.”

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