By John Bohnenkamp
Iowa and Purdue play in Tuesday’s men’s basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Three days later, Iowa is on the road at Minnesota. Purdue plays at home against Maryland.
It will be Christmas Day.
There will be no Christmas break for Big Ten teams this season. Four games are scheduled for Christmas Day. Two games will be played the following day.
The decision to play has everything to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is no right decision, Purdue coach Matt Painter said on Monday.
“This is good, in my opinion. But is it perfect? No,” Painter said.
The decision to play came from the decision to keep players on campus, where they can be tested for the COVID-19 virus on a daily basis. Since they were going to be on campus, why not play?
“We were all in from the beginning,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “When the discussion first began about playing on Christmas there were a lot of factors, not the least of which is we’re trying to stay in a pseudo bubble.
“As hard as that is in particular at Christmastime when everybody wants to see their families, we’re trying to limit as much as we can where we go, who we see. If we’re going to be here over the break, then we need to play games.”
“We knew that in this year’s environment, we knew our student-athletes were on campus, and likely be in a practice ‘bubble’ during that holiday break, or holiday period, anyway,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said.
“Obviously, we came to a real consensus that our guys going home was not a good idea for guys to leave, and then have to come back and start over,” Painter said. “If they’re going to be on campus, and then we’re not going to play, that’s tough.”
Basketball on Christmas Day is usually confined to NBA games. The league, which opens its 2020-21 season this week, will have five games on Friday.
“I’m excited,” Purdue forward Trevion Williams said. “I’m sure it’s going to feel like an NBA game. It’s going to be special.”
“We’ve all watched Christmas Day games, NBA games, and we thought that was cool,” Painter said. “When we reached out to our guys, our players were all for it.”
“It’s a unique year,” McCaffery said. “But the other thing is for a while it looked like the NBA wasn’t going to play and we were going to take that window of opportunity to showcase college basketball. The NBA decided to come back, which is great. That’s a tradition, NBA games on television. But the other networks were anxious for our games as well, so there was no decrease in interest in our games after the NBA decided to come back.
“I think everybody was excited to play games in that window, and we all made a decision that we would stay together and stay healthy and limit what we do, where we go, until this season is over.”
Still, Painter said he gets why some programs and conferences have given their players time off during the holiday.
“When coaches speak out, and say we think we need to have a pause, and we’re going to step away, you understand why,” Painter said. “You understand all of the reasons why. It makes sense. But is it the best thing? Maybe it’s the best thing for them.
“Is this perfect? No. You want your guys to go home for four days, be with their families, like in a normal situation. But this isn’t a normal situation. This is the best thing, we thought. And our players agreed with it.”
McCaffery said the Hawkeyes will get together for a Christmas Eve meal.
“We’re a very close-knit team,” he said. “We’ll have a nice meal for them. We’ll go a little extra on the meal and really celebrate together. But other than that, when you play on Christmas Day and you’re preparing on Christmas Eve, the day before like we normally would, there will be a business-like side of that approach. I think they understand that.”
“Hell, this is easy for me,” Painter said. “I get to be in West Lafayette, Indiana. I’m not the program, or the coach, that has to travel and play a road game on Christmas. Now it’s tougher for those guys. I appreciate our league, I appreciate our guys and what they did, but I really appreciate the players on the other teams who have to travel and be away from their families.”
“I love it,” Iowa center Luka Garza said. “I love to play the game of basketball, it doesn’t matter what day of the year it is. To play on Christmas is definitely awesome. Obviously this year, it’s a lot different to not be able to travel home, see families, whatever the case may be.
“I’d rather play than anything.”
Photo: Iowa’s Luka Garza shrugs after hitting a 3-pointer in the win over Iowa State. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)