CEDAR FALLS — The coronavirus pandemic took a wrecking ball to athletics across the nation four months ago. NCAA’s cash cow March Madness was one of the first major events swept up in the series of cancellations.
Currently four months removed from the scheduled start of the 2020-21 NCAA basketball season, plenty of uncertainty remains.
Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin made it clear Tuesday that progress must be made with regard to the spread of coronavirus before competition in his league resumes.
“I would not,” Elgin responded, when asked if he’d feel comfortable playing games if the basketball season was scheduled to begin today. “I do think things may look a lot differently; probably will, when you turn the calendar to August. We’re soon going to be reaching a point where we’re going to have to make some of those very tough decisions.”
During a Tuesday video conference with media members, MVC men’s basketball coaches detailed the variety of ways their institutions have handled offseason workouts.
The University of Northern Iowa and Drake had players back in town during the month of June, while Loyola is in phase four of Chicago’s protocol. Coaches and players are still unable to step foot on campus in the Windy City.
UNI head coach Ben Jacobson confirmed that two of the seven student-athletes that tested positive for COVID-19 at his school over the past three weeks are members of the basketball team.
“Both guys feel great,” Jacobson said. “They’re following all the protocols. They’re back in line to join the group because it has been long enough since they’ve had symptoms and long enough since they’ve tested positive.”
When asked about COVID-19 potentially impacting the upcoming season, Indiana State head coach Greg Lansing responded, “I’m scared to death of it. I’m paying close attention to what other teams are doing, other leagues and pro sports.
“We’ve had a lot of deaths and there’s been people devastated, businesses, families, and your heart goes out to all of them. You want things to get back to normal, but it’s not. We’re doing everything we can on our part. That’s what you try to do is control what you can control.”
Coronavirus remains a weekly conversation topic during UNI’s Zoom meetings. Social distancing, wearing masks and limiting exposure to large groups of friends has been emphasized.
“They’ve done a great job of following the protocols and keeping it close to the vest in terms of where they spend their time and who they spend their time with,” Jacobson said. “It has to be that way if we’re going to continue to move forward. We keep talking about setting ourselves up for what’s next.
“We don’t set our group back because we make a decision that puts us in a spot that wouldn’t be beneficial. The decisions we make each day always has an impact on what happens tomorrow or in a month. With the coronavirus, they have even more of an impact.”
Era of uncertainty
MVC decision makers have been analyzing models and formulating contingency options for the upcoming season. While medical authorities and leaders within each campus will manage how positive COVID-19 cases are handled, Elgin noted there will be conference standards on what would make a student-athlete not available for competition.
Even if the season does start on time, canceled and postponed games remain a realistic possibility.
“I don’t think there’s any question we could have interruptions that would include one or more campuses in terms of the state of the health of the student-athletes in any sport,” Elgin said.
Testing basketball players alone throughout the course of a season could cost schools an estimated $120 to $130 thousand per team.
“Certainly there’s going to be a great strain on our schools to measure up if those national standards are higher than we’re anticipating,” Elgin said. “That’s going to be a cost of doing business, a cost of keeping our student-athletes and all who participate in game administration healthy.”
The MVC commissioner noted his league was anticipating between $15.5 and $16 million from the NCAA to pass through to its institutions last spring. The loss of March Madness revenue from the canceled tournament cut the league’s share to less than $6 million.