In this year of No Good Answers, let’s pause for a moment to look at how City 6 colleges are attempting to navigate through the COVID-19 sports landscape.
Campus reopening plans are like snowflakes, no two quite the same.
Also, as Temple just found out, such plans could disappear upon touching.
Did we ever think we’d see a day where La Salle would pretty much have only its men’s and women’s basketball teams and international students on campus?
Crazy, you say? Is basketball really that important? Slow down. No good answers, right? Let’s argue La Salle came up with the least bad answer.
If the NCAA is still looking at playing hoops this semester, while putting off other winter sports until the new year, La Salle had little choice but to come up with a plan for its players. Drexel is doing something similar. The dorms are basically closed, but the hoops teams will be on campus.
“That really ended up being the heart of it,’' La Salle athletic director Brian Baptiste said of the NCAA’s still considering playing basketball this semester.”
You could also argue that basketball is important enough to La Salle as an institution that it will make every effort to play the sport. The Explorers teams have been back on campus for a week.
“So far, so good,’' Baptiste said, noting there had been no positive COVID results as of Friday morning. La Salle will follow NCAA guidelines, he said, where 25% to 50% of athletes and staff will be tested each week.
They’ve also arranged things so groups of four are in “training pods” and also living together, to attempt to alleviate any potential spread if there is a positive result. “We’ll sequence them into larger groups,’' Baptiste said.
Drexel, which starts later, operating on the academic quarters system, will start baseline COVID testing for men’s and women’s basketball players Sept. 8-11. Like La Salle, Drexel will have online courses.
Drexel is considering providing team training for all the fall sports from October through Thanksgiving, and then looking at preseason training starting in December for winter sports if the NCAA announces there is to be a championship season for those sports in 2021.
Drexel athletic director Eric Zillmer said in an email that it was probably appropriate that every school has a somewhat different approach to managing the pandemic.
“While some may point to the pursuit of a level playing field, I would ask everyone to keep in mind that we are in a global pandemic,’' Zillmer said.
Temple attempted to bring all students back to campus and hold classes in-person. That didn’t last, as positive COVID results exploded. Classes were switched to basically all online, with students given the option of getting a housing refund if they wanted to leave the dorms.
The American Athletic Conference is the only league with a City 6 participant that is attempting to play fall sports. But at Temple, workouts for fall sports were suspended for two weeks starting Aug. 31, with the exception of football, which is now up against a tight timeline trying to keep up with city health guidelines while preparing for an opener at Navy on Sept. 26. The Owls aren’t fully scrimmaging in normal fashion. This could be a problem.
Penn is another school that changed on the fly, as the availability of quick testing results couldn’t be guaranteed. A plan to have students on campus was scrapped, classes going virtual, no teams allowed to practice right now.
Villanova and St. Joseph’s are more or less open for business, with students living on campus. Villanova has hybrid teaching, a combination of in-person and online. All the fall and winter sports teams have gone through physicals and testing and have begun small-group workouts.
At St. Joe’s, the class mix includes a full menu -- online, face-to-face, hybrid, hyflex.
“A classroom that has technology [mics, cameras] so students can be simultaneously in-person and online,’' a school spokesperson said.
Which is different, we assume, from students being in class and also on their phones.
A handful of Hawk athletes have opted for a fully remote semester, but most are in the campus mix.
The wrinkles will continue. While the NCAA is expected to make decisions on starting dates for winter sports later this month, Temple is trying to offer some leeway for athletes to stay in the dorms until those decisions are announced. Say you’re on a partial scholarship for a winter sport, you’d like to know if you’re going to be at least practicing this semester as you’re deciding whether to stay in the dorm or not.
You want to argue that La Salle basketball players are getting special treatment, Baptiste points out that you can look at that from multiple angles, that there also is social responsibility attached.
“You can think about the pressure,’' Baptiste said. “You’re the one group -- you have to get it right.”
This isn’t necessarily an argument even about revenue-producing sports, since it remains an open question about whether there will be tangible revenue produced in 2020-21 in a league such as the Atlantic 10.
While these schools have to plan for all sorts of scenarios, one City 6 basketball coach pointed out that assuming anything about even the near future is difficult.
Again, the year of No Good Answers. At least none found so far.
This coach didn’t want to be quoted by name painting a doom and gloom scenario, but said, “I think it’s so premature to discuss this when the country just had another day of 1,000 deaths from COVID-19.”