MSU women vs. Northern Arizona (copy)

Montana State head coach Tricia Binford talks to her team during a timeout in the Big Sky tournament semifinals against Northern Arizona on March 11 in Boise, Idaho.

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The start of the men’s and women’s college basketball season has been pushed back to Nov. 25 because of the coronavirus, the NCAA Division I council announced Wednesday. The original start date was Nov. 10.

This moves the start of the season to the day before Thanksgiving. At least 75% of Division I schools, including Montana State, shifted their fall semesters to wrap up before Nov. 25. That means there will be a window from late November to January in which far fewer students will be on campuses.

No exhibitions or scrimmages will be allowed before Nov. 25. Men’s and women’s teams are allowed to play in up to 27 regular season games. To reach the NCAA Tournament, teams must play at least 13 games total, a 50% reduction from the prior minimum, and at least four nonconference games.

“The new season start date near the Thanksgiving holiday provides the optimal opportunity to successfully launch the basketball season,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball. “It is a grand compromise of sorts and a unified approach that focuses on the health and safety of student-athletes competing towards the 2021 Division I basketball championships.”

Teams are allowed a “transition period” from Monday until Oct. 13 in which they can have team activities up to 12 hours a week, including up to eight hours of skill instruction. On Oct. 14, teams can start preseason practice with players working out up to 20 hours per week.

Montana State has not released its schedules for men’s and women’s basketball. The men’s team was previously set to open the year at UNLV on Nov. 10 based on the Rebels’ schedule.

MSU athletic director Leon Costello wrote in a public letter on Sept. 9 that he expects some direction on the season after the NCAA’s meeting Wednesday. Following whatever would be announced, he wrote that he expected the Bobcats to release their schedules afterward. Last year, MSU announced its men’s and women’s schedules in August.

“Given the information we have gathered thus far, we anticipate the start of the season being delayed a few weeks,” Costello wrote Sept. 9, “but are planning on the season starting by the end of November.”

The Big Sky Conference already shortened the league season for men’s and women’s basketball from 20 games to 16. In May, conference commissioner Tom Wistrcill said the temporary one-year change was related to saving money.

Instead of each team playing all other 10 teams in the conference twice, geographic proximity will help determine which opponents each school faces twice or once.

With the season now beginning at a later date, how the nonconference schedule will work out is in flux as well.

Last year’s men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments were canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. Instead of splitting up $600 million among Division I teams, the NCAA distributed $225 million. The loss puts an emphasis on not missing an NCAA Tournament for a second straight year.

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.