COVID-19 is crushing the college football schedule. It will be worse for basketball. | Mike Jensen
College basketball season, due to start Nov. 25, already has its first postponement. School administrators might need to get creative with game schedules.
News item: As of Thursday morning, the Nos. 1, 3, 5, 12, and 24 college football teams in the national Associated Press rankings are not playing scheduled games this weekend.
Saturday, more Southeastern Conferences games are postponed than will be played. Ohio State, sitting at No. 3, is available but not playing, after a COVID-19 outbreak hit Maryland’s program. (Which means Penn State gets some anxiety, having just played Maryland.) The Pac-12 couldn’t even get started last weekend without losing two games on its opening Saturday.
Amid all this depressing news, an interesting idea, to have Alabama play Ohio State on Saturday, was floated this week by Associated Press national writer Ralph Russo. It was just a Twitter musing, although the Big Ten had shot down an attempt last week by Nebraska to play an out-of-league opponent, Chattanooga, after a cancellation.
It’s fair to wonder if the league would have shot down a similar attempt involving the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide, especially if a major network had called strongly endorsing the idea.
Obviously, things are in flux all over. Last Saturday, Notre Dame pulled off the win of the year, a double-OT thriller, beating top-ranked Clemson, whose star quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, sat for the second straight week after testing positive for COVID. After the game, Notre Dame basically turned into a campus-wide science experiment, after students stormed the field, mocking the very idea of social distancing.
Notre Dame cracked down this week, but not so much on that — rather, on the indoor parties that apparently ensued afterward, reasoning that those would be more likely to be super-spreading events. Students now have to get tested before they can leave campus for Thanksgiving, and can’t register for more classes if they ignore the edict.
Let’s not pass judgment on where the pandemic pops up, given that two of the three service academies, Navy and Air Force, have dropped games this weekend because of COVID outbreaks on their grounds. Simply following the chain of command doesn’t cut it. This pandemic finds its way in past the gates.
Imagine the collective anxiety as Division I college basketball programs now attempt to get to a Nov. 25 starting date. Now that we’re within the 14-day quarantine period, which is recommended by the NCAA for any player testing positive, we have the first hoops postponement: Miami-Stetson, after a Stetson positive. Seton Hall has had a player test positive and now has to sweat out the protocols until its opener.
“This is going to be 100% worse with hoops,” a local Division III coach said about his sport, noting his program, still aiming for a January start, shut down practice out of caution Tuesday and Wednesday because of a sick player who was getting tested. Luckily, the coach said, they weren’t practicing Monday and the player had no contact with teammates over the weekend. Still, big anxiety.
“The number of programs not practicing at this very moment would make your head spin,” the coach said, referring to Division III teams.
The collective anxiety, all levels, has to be crazy with all the uncertainty out there. Maybe La Salle and Drexel are in the best position, since their basketball players are among the few students living on their campuses right now. Less risk is way different from no risk, obviously. (But the Explorers and Dragons might consider having a 12-game La Salle-Drexel series in their pocket as a backup plan.)
“Some small schools really might play each other three or four times,” the Division III coach said.
This makes sense, as does his question: If two out-of-town teams get to a city and find out their games are canceled because of pandemic problems, could they find a gym and have a game? It’s not out of the question. That goes the other way, too. Local teams could end up with all sorts of games that aren’t currently on the schedule.
Bottom line: In 2020-21, a COVID-free team will be a hot commodity. Enjoy the weekend.