As COVID-19 continues to grip the country, every college basketball team and conference is going to have to deal with the havoc that positive tests the disease plays on the schedule. Some Big 12 teams have already had to remain flexible.
No one has felt this more than the Baylor Bears. BU head coach Scott Drew tested positive for COVID-19 right before the season began. That caused the Bears to lose their first three game — two at the Empire Classic and one against Seton Hall. Now, the Bears managed to schedule a pair of games to replace two of those games, and got in their regularly-scheduled game with Illinois. But that hotly-anticipated matchup with No. 1 Gonzaga on Saturday? Well, that was put on hold 90 minutes before tip-off after the Bulldogs had a player and a member of their traveling party test positive.
Then, Baylor lost its Tuesday home game with Nicholls State because the Colonels had to shut down their program due to COVID-19. The Bears are desperately seeking a game for Wednesday so they can get some preparation before their Big 12 opener against Texas.
West Virginia hasn’t lost a game, but its original schedule had the Mountaineers playing Texas A&M, Ohio State or Memphis and a mystery opponent at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic, followed by a home game with Youngstown State. The Mountaineers ended up playing South Dakota State, Virginia Commonwealth, Western Kentucky at the Bad Boy Mowers Classic, and then Gonzaga after the Bulldogs’ opponent at the Jimmy V Classic had to bow out due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Oklahoma Sooners had their own COVID-19 issues right as the season started. That forced the Sooners to postpone its opener with UTSA (which was eventually played), but the Sooners had to cancel games with UCF and Florida. The Sooners did schedule a game with Oral Roberts.
Iowa State had to cancel its Big 12-Big East Battle game with DePaul on Sunday. The Blue Demons were bit by COVID-19 protocols. The Cyclones have managed to get in their annual rivalry game with Iowa, but that’s later this week.
You get the point. This has become a challenge that college basketball coaches and players have never had to deal with. Most schedules are finalized by September. Some Big 12 schedules were finalized by then, but then had to be adjusted after the league decided to start conference play in December. So, more adjustments. And, as programs get hit by COVID-19, more adjustments.
Conference play started on Sunday, as TCU hosted Oklahoma. For the next few weeks each team will play two league games, mixed around non-conference games, before the ‘normal’ Big 12 schedule we’re used to start in January.
Why is the Big 12 doing this? Because when the new league schedule came out, the conference built in 10 days between the end of the regular season and the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, theoretically giving teams some space to reschedule conference games if COVID-19 is an issue.
The Big 12 will do everything possible to maintain the integrity of the schedule, and that includes avoiding cancellation of conference games. We’ve seen that in the football schedule this fall. But the basketball schedule is more complex. Once January hits teams play two games per week, not one as they do in football. The conference has set forth protocols for playing and not playing. But, as we’ve learned early in this basketball season, a program that gets hit by COVID-19 ends up getting shut down for at least a week. So let’s say that a Big 12 team tests positive in league play and has to postpone. That postponement would probably cost that team two games, at least. It would cost the teams they were supposed to play one game each. Now, the Big 12 would push the games back, of course. But what if that keeps happening? That 10-day buffer period has the potential to be a nightmare.
Odds are, there will be postponements. You can’t keep reality out, and outside the wonderful world of college basketball, COVID-19 has infiltrated every part of the country. There are no ‘safer spaces’ anymore. The disease’s seven-day infection averages and daily death toll continues to rise, and likely will during the holiday season as families try to balance staying infection-free and trying to celebrate with family and friends. Players will likely head home, albeit briefly, to celebrate the holiday before heading back to campus to re-start the season.
Players want to play. We want to watch. Everyone wants to be safe.
That means remaining flexible and understanding that this season is about getting through it, even if it comes at the expense of the balance in schedule that the Big 12 Conference loves.
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