This is the time of year that college basketball fans wait for. Most of the warm-up games are over and teams are getting ready for thier final tough tests before they start playing conference games. Line ups are solidifying, new guys are mixing in and roles are being developed. This year there is another wrinkle, Covid-19. With cases on the rise in the general population it stands to figure on college campuses players would be at greater risk than normal. Many teams like Illinois scheduled mini pod like non tournaments. inviting 3 teams in and everyone plays a round robin for 3 days to cut down on travel and switching lodging. Most have stayed in a hotel even at home. When traveling it has been from plane/bus to hotel the night before sleep, get ready and go to the stadium for maybe a shoot around before game time. Instead of the customary day before and a gym walk-through then Hotel and then game the nest day. Benches stretch from center court around the end of the court to the basket. sometimes staggered to look more like an obstacle course than a team bench. All in an effort to limit contact with people. Even though there is piped in noise the quiet of the arenas is eerie. All that pales in comparison to the recent rash of game cancellations.
On Wednesday December 8th there were 64 college games scheduled to tip off. 12 were cancelled. On Dec. 6th Gonzaga put a hold on basketball games until December 15th. Butler started the season November 25th and has yet to play a second game. Overall since the start of the season 21% of the games have been cancelled. including some high profile games No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Baylor and No. 4 Michigan State at No. 18 Virginia.
Coaches and commentators have all chimed in with thier concerns.
Mike Krzyzewski said after the Illinois Duke Game on Dec 7th “I don’t think it feels right to anybody. I mean everyone is concerned.” *
Michigan Coach Juwan Howard had this to say when the Michigan vs NC State game was cancelled on December 8th. "Far too often have I had to say we are all living in unprecedented times. Our main concern is the health and safety of Coach Keatts, his players as well as all of those within the N.C. State program. It is unfortunate we have to postpone this ACC/Big Ten Challenge match up. It would have been fun. However, we must do what is right, and this is the right thing to do for everyone." **
Sportscasters like Jay Bilis, Fran Fraschilla and even Dick Vitalle have chimed in. Using terms like national discussion and pushing the season back. Fran Fraschilla Tweeted “I love this game, I know these young people are making an incredible sacrifice, but they do want to play. But given the extent of the virus right now, I’d (send) everyone home for Xmas break, quarantine them for 10 days & pick it back up in mid-January.” *
Jay Bilis made the comment “These players have essentially been essential workers. They get tested every day. They’re not allowed to go home for the Christmas holiday because they wouldn’t be able to play when they got back. They’d essentially have to quarantine their team. We’ve been advised by our government not to travel over the holidays and yet these players are traveling.” *
I Was Dick Vitalle one of the most fervent college basketball advocates who tweeted "college basketball, would be better off if the NCAA pushed the season back,” *
So are we pressing the envelope. Vaccines have been created. But total availability is still weeks away. The players want to play. The coaches want to coach and yes even if we can't watch in person fans want to watch college basketball. Many have called for a conference bubble system or pod like set up where all teams would go to play much like the NBA did last year. Others have said scrap the Conference format and go strict geographical location pods. I do think that the NCAA does need to address the situation ASAP. The best thing would have been to address it continuously throughout the summer and track situations. and given the cancellations in football should have possibly kicked up the conversation a notch. If they wait to long to come up with a plan it could cost us another college basketball season.
Thank you for reading .
*= John Clay www.kentucky.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs//article247729305.html#storylink=cpy
** = Shannon Russell, Louisville Courier Journal, and Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press