The outlook for being able to stage a safe and successful 2020-21 college basketball season becomes bleaker by the day.
It's not time to give up and cancel it. There's no need to lose hope, entirely. We're not there yet.
But this project is headed in the wrong direction as we inch closer — less than a couple of weeks, now — toward tip-off of what we expected to lend joyous distraction to the hellishly trying few months ahead.
A question to which no one has the answer: Is it possible, or even responsible, to squeeze college basketball into a COVID-19 equation of rising virus numbers, two-week program shutdowns, a winter's arrival and more?
Virus contraction records are being set statewide and nationwide. Thanksgiving gatherings are bound to compromise mitigation efforts. School districts are ending in-person learning. The entire UConn campus was put under quarantine before completion of a semester. Our own governor, having recently taken heavy regulatory action in areas of sport and business, is even in quarantine now.
College basketball and its outstanding people are operating amid disruption, apprehension and massive scheduling challenges. And we're still far removed from the widespread distribution of a vaccine.
Everything is messy. We're living in a state where 100 of 169 cities and towns are under a "red-alert." We're living at a time when there's a smartphone app that will tell you if you've come within six feet of someone who has tested positive for the virus.
This feels like a science fiction movie. I look into the murky coronavirus crystal basketball and I can't see a season — not one that represents anything we're used to, anyway — though I hope we come away with one.
It's March again. Or still. Actually, in many ways it's worse.
The NCAA pulled the plug on its national tournaments and ended the 2019-20 season on March 12.
There were 1,600 reported cases in the U.S. at the time.
There have been 10.7 million reported cases in the U.S. since.
March Madness went dark mostly out of anticipation of the virus sweeping the nation. It did. We're now living through what was feared.
And we're gearing up for the start of competition at a time of even more discouraging circumstances. Connecticut's positivity rate was 6.4% on Friday, when a one-day record 2,746 new positive cases was announced.
We know more about the virus. We are better prepared, all around. Still, the upward wave we are riding figures to be the worst yet, and it coincides with an effort to allow 300-plus Division I college basketball teams to play on vacated campuses here or in "bubbles" there.
College basketball scheduling is one of the most complicated endeavors in all of sports. Toss in a pandemic's uncertainty and you have coaches and athletic directors running around in circles at the 11th hour and beyond. Logistics alone, this is a bear of an undertaking.
By all accounts, the teams in our state are doing everything right, working as hard as they can to prepare, trying to protect student-athletes they're charged with protecting and even the public at large.
UConn players and staff members are tested for COVID three times a week. The men's team had a positive case, announced Nov. 5, and won't practice again until Nov. 19. The Huskies, one of four Big East teams forced into a two-week shutdown in recent months, are scheduled to play Central Connecticut Nov. 25 at Gampel Pavilion.
Do you think that game is going to be played? I don't know. Most important to UConn, coach Dan Hurley noted, are the games that are going to be A) the safest; and B) most likely to take place: Big East games.
Maybe there's a way to make the conference season come together. There is hope, no certainty.
The sport is bound to run into the complications UConn is currently experiencing. A two-week shutdown isn't a two-week effect. That team loses games. Obviously so do the opponents scheduled for that window. Rescheduling successfully — potentially dozens of teams and hundreds of games — at a time that already requires the most careful planning feels like something between improbable and impossible.
There are also safety issues. Forget the obvious ones tied to the virus, for a moment. A team can't be expected to come off a two-week shutdown and remain prepared to actually compete. Do we want teams with players out of focus and out of shape sustaining injuries that would be far less likely in the framework of proper training and practicing?
The policies in place are so stringent — as they must be — that they handcuff programs as much as they protect players. Every effort will be made to save a season and the NCAA Tournament and its billions of dollars in revenue. The future of college athletics might be at stake. This is a profoundly serious issue on so many fronts.
But we're trending toward the untenable and the Ivy League, once again, has set a tone. The Ivy was the first to cancel postseason tournaments in the spring, the first to cancel fall sports and the first to cancel winter sports.
I don't expect the quick domino effect of March. I'm not calling for it. I just can't get a clear vision for how this will go off without disruptions that threaten to ruin a season before it picks up steam and feels like it fits.
March 2020 stunk. November 2020 stinks, too. Plans can't be expected to stick. You're left with hope.
The UConn women are scheduled to face Quinnipiac Nov. 28 at Mohegan.
"We go to practice every day and we prepare as if this was any other year, with the understanding that it's not," Geno Auriemma said. "But we're going to do what we need to do to make it work. Until when? Until we realize that — you know what? — it's not in our best interest, the players' best interest, specifically, to move on. So until then, I have great confidence."
The men's team is considering whether to push back its opener.
"We're in a difficult spot," Hurley said. "A lot of schools are."
The entire sport is.
(c)2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
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