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Column: Everyone needs to learn from their mistakes if we want a college basketball season

College football is going belly-up because everyone fumbled the ball. Will the same happen with basketball?

The Big Ten Basketball Tournament was canceled March 12, 2020. The NCAA Tournament quickly followed suit.
Photo courtesy of the Detroit Free Press

It hurts to think about it and even more to say it, but the loss of Big Ten football on Tuesday afternoon may not be the only punch we take in the coming weeks. While nobody (except me, of course) has thought too much about basketball yet, it won’t be long until our gaze shifts to the next major sport that draws revenue.

Schedules aren’t ironed out yet, but the first games of the college basketball season usually come in the form of a small double-header involving four “blue blood” programs during the first week of November. Some combination of Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and Michigan State will participate in a “Tipoff Special” played in an NBA arena somewhere, and everyone will watch, even though nobody really likes those teams. Because that is how we always start the college basketball season. It is right and good, and it signals that hoops have returned to us.

Last season’s opening night was on Nov. 5, 2019. That means we have roughly three months until the college basketball season begins. But just so we are all on the same page, if our country is still in the same position in three months as we are today, college basketball will be getting the axe, too.

Photo courtesy of cornnation.com

There was not a single party responsible for cancelling football. Did the universities themselves plan accordingly? Not at all. Did they clarify why it was safe for students to return for in-person classes, but not for athletes to come to campus and participate in an outdoor sport? Negative.

Did the Big Ten conference provide proper guidance and complete information to the individual institutions regarding player safety, practices, eligibility, opt-outs, and the status of the upcoming season? Also no.

Did the NCAA use the past five months since the NCAA Tournament, which makes them nearly a billion dollars per year, to deliberately plan out a course of action so that college football would not also tank? No, they did not. The “wait and see” approach burned them, as the COVID numbers continue to rise and the the NCAA did not have a contingency plan in place. The NCAA had the better part of five months to examine what happened to basketball in March, utilize the best science available, and create guidelines to apply to college football ahead of time. They failed to do that.

Did Americans do everything they could to be responsible during the pandemic? Are we currently? I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say no, we didn’t do all we could. While I have no doubt the lovely and responsible readers here at Land Grant Holy Land dot com wore a mask and stayed home as much as they could (within reason), many people scoffed at science and chose defiance instead.

The blame does not fall on any demographic or age group, either. Yes, there are plenty of videos of older folks at the grocery stores refusing to wear a mask, and throwing a tantrum when asked to comply. But many younger people, who maybe felt immune to the virus, continued to get together for parties and other large get-togethers. This is on the 20-something’s too, and we can’t forget that.

Did the US government analyze the science and set forth a clear way to tackle this issue, or did we turn it into a partisan boxing match, allowing American lives to become collateral for our own petty disagreements due to conflicting political ideologies?

Photo courtesy of thedailygopher.com

The point I’m making is this: if you want to point fingers for why we’re not watching Justin Fields throw darts all over the field this fall, then you’re going to need to use all 10 of them. But we have an opportunity to correct those mistakes and save college basketball, if we want it badly enough. And “we” includes all parties, including the NCAA and the individual institutions, too.

Basketball teams field anywhere from 12-14 players, typically. It’s certainly a contact sport — Andre Wesson could tell you that — but it pales in comparison to football as far as hard contact and close proximity to other athletes.

Some teams are already putting protocols in place that could carry over to the regular season, and give us a framework how things may go behind the scenes. The Ohio State men’s program is only allowing players into the practice facility. There is no locker room access, no on-site showers, and no communal team meal. They show up, change into clean clothes to work out, get their work in, and then are sent home with all of their dirty clothes in one bag, and with a meal in another bag. They are to shower once they get home.

Coaches are wearing masks in practice too, as shown in the video the men’s program tweeted out recently:

If the upcoming college basketball season is cancelled, we will end up going three calendar years in between NCAA Tournaments. Aside from the earth flooding or the fictitious monsters from the movie “Gremlins” coming to life, there’s nothing scarier to me than going three whole years without an NCAA Tournament. You can take Christmas away from me, but don’t you dare mess with Selection Sunday.

We’ve got three months to figure it out. From the top down, everyone needs to be better. A vaccine is not going to save the college basketball season. It’s going to come down to how we choose to act, and consequently how much we care about the well-being of others. As everyone’s favorite college basketball robot Jon Rothstein says, the choice is yours.

The onus will fall on the NCAA, too. They’ve had five months to work on football, and that is now crumbling. Consider the next three months an extension. Three more months to devise a plan to protect athletes while also giving them an opportunity to step back if they feel the need, but without punishing them if they choose to step away during this hectic time.

Even if we do everything right, the season still may not happen. COVID-19 isn’t playing by our rules, and we can’t help that. But the “wait and see” strategy didn’t work out too well for football, so let’s get to work and see if we collectively can salvage college basketball.