PROVIDENCE — It’s back to Alumni Hall for the Friars.
That’s where the roots of the Providence College men’s basketball took form during the 1950’s and ’60’s as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Friars to return to the Joe Mullaney Gymnasium for any home games that they may play in the 2020-21 season.
A season without fans.
PC coach Ed Cooley revealed Tuesday that due to health and safety concerns and social protocol, the Friars will move the base of their game day basketball operations from the Dunkin Donuts Center in downtown Providence back onto campus.
“I just want to play one game,” Cooley said. “I’m prepared for anything, we’ll have to make adjustments and make it work,”
The Friars may have a 20-game schedule of home and away dates among Big East Conference competition in addition to playing three games in the Maui Classic, which will be played on the last weekend of November in North Carolina to nullify air travel concerns.
Cooley hasn’t had a practice session with the Friars since March 9, prior to the Big East Tournament in New York City when the corona virus pandemic forced the sporting world to the sidelines. By now, Cooley would have had some 60-plus workouts with his team since the summer academic sessions. Other than small pods of players working out by position and some strength and conditioning work, the thump, thump of a basketball on the floor of the Friars’ Ruane Center training facility has been random.
“There’s lots and lots of moving pieces to running these programs during these times,” Cooley said of awaiting word from the Big East Conference on a schedule in the face of lost revenue from games not being played at The Dunk to protect the safety of student-athletes.
The Friars will be able to begin preseason practice, under NCAA guidelines, on Oct. 25, “but, I have no idea about the Big East schedule,” Cooley said. “It changes by the minute. I’ll take what comes my way and we’ll go from there.”
Cooley is hoping that if the Friars play a 23-game schedule. The strength of that schedule against Big East foes and the trio of games in North Carolina would present a good enough resume for an NCAA Tournament bid — if there is a postseason series.
“When we look at a conference and a non-conference schedule, I’m going to do what’s in the best interests of Providence College,” Cooley said. “Given the pandemic, given all the moving pieces,, it’s in the best interests of my program, that I’m going to be selfish with every year that we move forward,. There are too many variables. We’ll go from there.
“I’m prepared for anything: If somebody gets sick and if we’re scheduled to play Georgetown. What is somebody tests positive? Do we shut the whole team down? Do we play somebody two, three, four times? Will we play back to back? Will we stay in a region and play two or three road games? Will we go out to the Midwest and stay out there during the break? Do teams come here? The No. 1 thing is how do we get to 13 games to be tournament eligible. Can we get to 13 games? How will be play one game?”
Without 11-12,000 fans at The Dunkin Donuts Center to cheer on the Friars or the excitement of a Big East rival coming to town, it will have to be reckoned with where the Friars will receive the energy boost.
“Crowds are wonderful,” Cooley said of the Friars now playing in an empty 2,620-seat Alumni Hall. “It’ll be different. Crowds give you energy, it gives you atmosphere, it creates advantages.”
PC played its first basketball game in Alumni Hall in December, 1955 and then played 17 seasons there through the 1970-71 season before moving to LaSalle Square in downtown Providence.
Providence College will save $30-35,000 in its game-day rental fee arrangement with The Dunkin Donuts Center, but the lost revenue from season ticket holders and game day sales cannot be replaced by proceeds from the Big East Conference’s media rights fees with the Fox Sports Network.
“We may have a season, we may not have a season,” Cooley said of the variables from campus to campus, and from one Big East city or town to another. “The only thing that has shown to be bullet-proof is the NBA bubble.”
Cooley indicated too that the Friars will now have to practice game situations without crowd noise at Alumni Hall.
“We’ll have to make adjustments to make it work,” he said.
With David Duke, A.J. Reeves and Nate Watson forming the nucleus of the Friars’ team, Cooley can have a read on some players and expectations. But having last taken to the floor seven months ago, Cooley is guessing on what to expect when a basketball bounces for real.
“I don’t have a pulse on my team,” Cooley said. “I talk to our players about controlling what we can. You don’t know who you are until you get to compete five-on-five This year is going to be so unique, so different. We have to be flexibile. We have to be patient. We have to be understanding that it’s not going to be normal. We’ll do the best that we can to get to the minimum of 13 games and the maximum of 24, 25 games.
“Our kids are desperate, they want to play, they want to compete. Every kid around the country feels that way. “Everybody has a high level of anxiety and frustration. People want human connection, they want a conversation, they want contact. Everybody is anxious, everybody is optimistic, but everybody is real because there’s not many answers — just do the best that you can.”