- Gonzaga University has paused team activities due to positive COVID-19 tests within the program.
- Number 1 ranked Gonzaga was forced to cancel a game against #2 ranked Baylor over the weekend.
- Four games have already been cancelled through December 14.
When the top ranked team in the country cancels a game against the #2 team hours before tipoff it isn’t a good sign. That trepidation was clearly justified in the case of Gonzaga University, who forced Saturday’s game against Baylor to be called off less than two hours before the scheduled start time after two positive COVID-19 tests within the team’s traveling party. The situation has gone ‘from bad to worse’ at Gonzaga within the past twenty four hours and the school has paused all team basketball activities due to the positive tests.
As of yet, there has been little in the way of official guidance from the Gonzaga athletic department about the situation. The only official word was released late afternoon Pacific Time on Sunday in the form of a terse press release:
Out of an abundance of caution and the well-being of student-athletes, in accordance with COVID-19 protocols Gonzaga has made the decision to pause men’s basketball competitions through December 14.
In the process, the school has cancelled the next four scheduled basketball games. None are exactly marquee matchups–off the schedule are games against Tarleton State (December 8), Southern University (December 10), Northern Arizona University (December 12) and the University of Idaho (December 14). The next scheduled game for now is against #3 ranked Iowa on December 19 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Gonzaga’s home opener is now against Northwestern State on December 21.
Athletic Director Mike Roth commented via text message to the (Spokane, WA) Spokesman-Review newspaper:
“We decided that this was in the best interest of our student-athletes. The health and safety of our players is our top priority. This decision was made with an abundance of caution in mind. This has been a very difficult decision, but we have all agreed that it’s the correct decision.”
Roth admitted that the current situation vis a vis COVID-19 is worse than at the start of the season though he maintains that he expects Saturday’s game against Baylor to be rescheduled:
“It’s a cumulative thing, Baylor has experienced it themselves. There’s no denying the numbers (nationally) have jumped significantly. As great as it would have been to play the (Baylor) game, the safety and in some ways societal view of this is important.”
“We’ve tried to dot every I and cross every T and we’ve still had positive cases. I try to be glass half full, but in this case, as hard as it is, maybe this was a helpful thing for people that are paying attention or maybe need to pay attention. We all need to do better.”
College basketball in general and Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference (WCC) in particular have struggled mightily with COVID-19 since the start of the season. So far this year, three teams from the WCC have had to suspend basketball activities due to COVID-19. San Diego shut down their program on November 20, cancelling their first three games. They’re hoping to open their season on Wednesday, December 9 against UCLA. The University of Pacific shut down for two weeks this past Friday, cancelling two games in the process. According to CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish 21% of all college basketball games have been cancelled or postponed through the first 11 days of the season.
Not surprisingly, the uncertainty surrounding the season is tough for players and coaches to negotiate. A team will practice and prepare to face certain teams only to have those games cancelled. In some cases, they’ll be given a new opponent that they haven’t prepared for.
There is now concern over the ability to finish the college basketball season. Before play began, USA TODAY quoted Dr. Sten Vermund, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Yale’s School of Public Health, who issued this warning:
“You couldn’t be starting a season at a worse possible time … It would be best to delay the season until there’s a better handle on the virus.”
Longtime college hoops gadfly Dick Vitale shared his thoughts in typically histrionic fashion:
“This is total chaos. My feeling from Day 1 was that we should’ve started the season around February and then played conference games because this thing is out of control. Basketball is my life and my love. But it comes secondary when the disease is running rampant. We’re going to have a lot of this happen and we should be listening to the experts.”
“The bottom line is that we should not just be playing games to get games done, then having them canceled,” Vitale said. “That’s not good for the student-athletes or anybody.”
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas offered a more sober, realistic analysis:
“It’s a fair question to ask, ‘should we be doing this?’ We are going to continue to see these kind of disruptions over and over again. We felt like we knew this would be a bumpy ride throughout the winter time with programs pausing activity and games being postponed or canceled.”
He understands the financial implications of playing college basketball but would like the NCAA to be transparent and not be hypocritical for a change:
“I’m not in the camp of people who say, ‘no don’t have the season.’ Because this is a multi-billion dollar industry with people’s livelihoods riding on this. But this certainly does go against the narrative that the NCAA has been putting forth for the last decade – it’s hard to make any rational claim that (college basketball players) are just amateurs who shouldn’t make any money. We’re proving that they’re not every day now.”
“The NCAA just needs to be transparent. If the NCAA wants to hold a press conference any time a player is getting an extra nickel, then why is there silence about why we are having this season, why isn’t that part of the national conversation? It’s the same reason other places are staying open. It’s for money, and that’s inescapable. A lot of businesses are staying open for money. … Pretending like it’s any different is disingenuous and that’s being kind to the NCAA.”
For now, there’s no serious call to prematurely end the college basketball season. Nor is there any expectation that the NCAA will do the right thing and justify their reasons for having this season.