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Analysis: What the logistics of socially distanced Bradley basketball may look like

Carver Arena sits empty prior to Bradley men’s basketball’s game vs Loyola-Chicago in February 2020. It is still undecided as to where the men’s team will play their home games this upcoming season. Photo by Larry Larson.

Let’s start with the obvious: it isn’t going to be very much fun for Bradley Athletics as they iron out the logistics of how to host home basketball games this winter. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines currently stipulate that only 50 people can be involved in a gathering at the same time. This guidance has been relaxed for a select number of events. In the context of sports, the Chicago Bears, Cubs and White Sox have all held home events with only essential personnel present. 

There are four schools from Illinois represented in the Missouri Valley Conference: Bradley, Illinois State, Loyola-Chicago and Southern Illinois. Considering the exemptions that were made for professional sports, all of these schools will hope to be allowed to have more than 50 people in the arena when conference schedules begin on Jan. 1. 

It would be difficult, though possible, for games to proceed with no more than 50 people in the arena. Let’s take a look at a model of how a limit of 50 people might look. For this exercise, we’ll use a men’s basketball matchup between Bradley and Illinois State in Peoria as our example. 

The Fans

Nope. 

Fans will almost certainly be barred from attending college sporting events in Illinois this season. Spectators haven’t been permitted at pro events, so they’re not likely to be allowed at collegiate ones either. With the current guidelines in place and how teams have been allowed to operate thus far, it is not realistic to expect much to change drastically in the coming months. 

The Teams

You can dice it any way you want, but there can’t be a game if there’s nobody around to play in it. 

Bradley currently has 15 players listed on its roster, while the Illinois State website lists 16 players. Teams are currently allowed to bring 15 players to a game, and we are going to assume that both teams are capable of fielding full teams. 

So, with respect to the one Redbird who was forced to stay in Normal, our arena starts with 30 people in it. 

The Coaches

Now we have to factor in coaches. Each side lists six coaches on its coaching staff.  

Assume all 12 are at the game, and we arrive at 42 people. However, we’re going to say that one coach per team is forced to stay back because of the need to limit attendance. So with five coaches per side, we arrive at 40 people

Personnel 

We also have to consider everybody who is a part of making sure that the game can proceed seamlessly. First, there have to be three game officials present. So 43 people are now involved. 

Next, we factor in those behind the scenes who the casual fan never sees. We’ll need two people to run the game clocks, an official scorekeeper, two floor wipers to prevent slippage and a trainer in the case of an injury. Add these key individuals to the mix and we’re at 49 people.

Finally, we’re going to allow Bradley one administrator to make sure that things run smoothly. This administrator would likely report to the MVC and essentially be the conference’s eyes in the gym. That’s 50 people

Is a 50-person limit possible?

Our mock game isn’t ideal for either team, but we’ve now established that a game could occur with 50 people if it absolutely had to. But there are some other things to keep in mind that make a 50-person production seem like more of a hypothetical than reality. 

In the above scenario, nobody is there to report on the game. Even if we put media considerations on the backburner, neither team has a sports information director (SID) or a content creator present. 

Unless players are filming these games from the bench with their phones, the only record of the game that either school would have will come from the official scorebook and accounts from players and coaches after the fact. 

Not ideal. We have to add more people, so we’re now going to adjust our limit to 100 people for the rest of our calculations. 

What about a 100-person limit?

Time to pull back the curtain and let the public in. We’re going to add one SID for each team, allowing them to publish recaps and recount the game to their fans as they see fit. That puts 52 people in our gym.

Now, we need to give people a chance to tune in live. Luckily for the MVC, its broadcast partners can largely produce telecasts remotely using today’s technology. All a typical broadcast would need is four on-site camera operators and an on-site technical director; commentators and production truck employees can operate remotely. So we now have a live broadcast and are at 57 people

We’ll add in home and road radio crews now. I’d assume that both crews could operate with two commentators and an on-site technician, raising our total to 63 people.

Now, we can add in some other media members. We will conservatively assume one reporter from the Journal Star, The Scout, The Pantagraph and The Vidette are allowed to cover this hypothetical matchup in-person. Good seats remain available after we add our local scribes for a total of 67 people.

Next, we have to take local television stations into account. In considering a game between Bradley and Illinois State, it is important to note that the two share a media market and thus, only four local television stations would be interested in taping the game for highlight purposes. 

If Bradley was playing an out-of-market school such as Indiana State, it wouldn’t necessarily increase the number of stations who might want to attend the game as Peoria’s stations would simply share footage with their sister stations in Terre Haute. 

What Bradley and other schools plan to do with local television could go one of three ways. 

First, schools could elect to have one person in their creative department shoot highlights for both teams and then quickly distribute those highlights to interested stations following the game. This would add one person to the equation and take our total to 68 people. Alternatively, any stations interested in running highlights could simply record the broadcast and clip them from there. 

In the two scenarios outlined above, reporters from stations with a stake in the game could join the postgame press conference remotely over Zoom, eliminating their need to be present at the arena. In Peoria, the four local television stations share enough resources to the point where they could all probably get away with sending three people to cover the game. That would put our model at 71 people.

This total is with our one content creator staying in the gym. He works hard and it would be difficult to ask him to leave. 

With media sufficiently addressed, let’s look at a few additional people who would make things easier for the teams involved. We’ll give each team three managers on the bench to raise our total to 77 people. We’ll also let them bring in one additional manager to film the game for practice purposes, putting us at 79 people

We have 20 spots left to distribute given that the limit on attendance is 100 people. A good use of this wiggle room is probably in medical staff. In looking at our essential group, we assigned one trainer to the venue to help with a potential injury. We’ll give each team one more trainer to put our total at 81 people.  

Finally, we’re going to allow the MVC to have an official administrator at the game to oversee the operation, taking the pressure off of Bradley’s designated administrator. Operating games during this time will be an incredibly difficult task, and it stands to reason that the conference will want as much oversight as possible on site. 

Our final total is 82 people, with 18 remaining spots able to be divided up evenly between Bradley and Illinois State. 

The above model is purely speculative, but it takes into account some of the personnel decisions that Bradley and other schools in Illinois will have to make this fall. Conducting a basketball game with 50 people would certainly be possible, but a 100-person cap would be more realistic. 

More information regarding how Bradley plans to operate this season is expected in the coming weeks.

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