Image via NYT
Coming into the college basketball season, things were a lot different than they are at this moment in time. Fall sports were going as smoothly as possible with little to no cancellations due to COVID-19. As a result, the optimism was there to think that Winter sports including basketball would not be tremendously affected by contact tracing, pauses, and cancellations. Thus, conferences across the nation established that if a team cannot play due to COVID issues, they would suffer a loss in the conference standings.
However, as we sit today, the optimism many held has obviously been thrown for a loop. Dozens of games have been canceled over the course of the young season, with many coming in the last week or so. In Men’s Basketball alone, 40 programs have had to go on COVID pause this season. With the forfeit policies in place, some teams are already taking losses and falling behind in their respective conferences.
At the time of all these conferences coming out and announcing their policies, the consensus was in favor of the decisions. Encouraging humans, but in this case student athletes, to get the vaccine seemed like a smart idea. In many cases, if teams met a certain threshold in terms of vaccinated players, they weren’t required to be tested without showing symptoms. But with Omicron spreading at a rapid rate, these forfeit policies may be a little out of date and could throw a wrench in the integrity of the college basketball season.
Last week, the NCAA’s Executive Vice President Dan Gavitt said that rules regarding the minimum number of games a team must play to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament could be altered.. Current rules stipulate that a team must play 25 games to be eligible for the postseason. That, however, could change. "It’s not something we need to do right now but if we get into mid to late January and it’s an ongoing problem, it’s something we might have to look into," said Gavitt.
While the NCAA doesn’t have the same control over regular season contests like they have over the Tournament, conferences might want to look at their forfeit policies to adjust to the current times. The Omicron variant has changed the game, and as a result, the game's policies need to change as well. Last season, conference games were considered “no contests” even if only one team contributed to the cancellation due to COVID-19. That policy might need to return as soon as possible in college athletics this season.
Ohio State is a team who is reported to be fully vaccinated, yet they’ve had breakthrough cases disrupt their season. Should they be taking conference losses which could affect their postseason chances just for a case of bad luck? DePaul is already 0-2 in the Big East without playing a conference game. On the other side, St. John’s is already 1-0 without having scored a point in league play.
This list will only grow longer if conferences don’t adjust their policies to reflect 2020-2021’s quickly. It’s not ideal, but it’s the world we’re living in right now. Hopefully, the Omicron variant doesn’t cause as much havoc on the season as previous strands did in the past, but conferences need to take proactive steps to ensure the best teams are eligible for the Tournament. You’d hate to see a team capable of cutting down the nets in March be saddled with losses they didn’t deserve. It’s time to turn back the clock on forfeit policies in college sports.
Brendan can be followed on Twitter @_bbell5.