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Rick Pitino and college basketball’s second-chance coaches discuss new challenges

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Rick Pitino isn’t going into his first season at Iona with the sole intention of getting revenge on the forces that ran him out of college basketball.

That’s not to say he isn’t motivated.

“To say I have a chip on my shoulder would be incorrect. I have a boulder on my shoulder,” Pitino said. “Not for seeking revenge; it’s more to the fact I’m more passionate, more hungry, today than I was in my 30s. It’s because of my absence from the game of college basketball. I do have a major, major boulder on my shoulder — but not to stick it to people.”

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Pitino has been out of the college game since Louisville fired him for cause in October 2017, following an FBI investigation into college basketball that included allegations regarding the Cardinals’ recruitment of Brian Bowen. Pitino has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the three years since his ouster, but zero colleges were willing to hire him in the two coaching carousel cycles that followed. He went overseas and took over the Greek club Panathinaikos in 2018, leading them to a Greek Cup and a Greek Basket League championship.

It was only a matter of time before he returned to college, and Iona stepped forward last spring when it needed to replace Tim Cluess, who resigned due to health issues.

Pitino’s last four jobs before Greece were some of the biggest in the sport: New York Knicks, Kentucky, Boston Celtics and Louisville. Iona is obviously a bit different, but it checks some other boxes that make Pitino very comfortable.

“If it was in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, North Carolina, I would not have taken the job. I live five miles away,” Pitino said of the New Rochelle, New York, campus. “I’m not looking to move. I’m

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College basketball’s biggest question: Will daily testing allow avoidance of contact-tracing quarantine rules?

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In just over three weeks’ time, college football has helplessly watched as 22 of its 94 games were postponed or canceled due to COVID-19. That’s an eye-catching 23.4% of its schedule. Remember, four of the 10 FBS leagues (Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West, MAC) haven’t played a game. The SEC just started this past weekend. 

College basketball’s schedule, 57 days out from the planned Nov. 25 start, could be at even greater risk. If the sport were to have a cancellation/postponement rate that matched college football’s first month, hoops would easily see more than 100 games impacted with a high percentage of them being cancellations as there isn’t one game per week per team and there won’t be makeup dates in the nonconference portion of the schedule. 

College football has some built-in advantages to stave off coronavirus-related schedule suspensions. Mainly, teams are so large that they can practice in groups to maintain roster stability (reducing contact-tracing requirements). Another benefit: College football teams can practice outside where the coronavirus is believed to be much less likely to spread than in a contained environment. College basketball, on the other hand, practices indoors with small, hyper-interactive rosters. 

“Absolutely one of the biggest challenges we have in front of us: to figure out how to have a competitive season in any sport without major, major stoppages,” Oregon State director for sports medicine Doug Aukerman said Friday in an NCAA video

Aukerman was speaking hours after the NCAA released its “Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Basketball”. That landed with a gloomy thud Friday afternoon. The NCAA’s COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group reminded everyone what should happen if even one player tests positive during the season. The protocols therein are being viewed across college basketball as existential threat to the integrity of the upcoming season.