The COVID-19 pandemic has changed sports in the United States and college basketball is no outlier. With non-conference games starting Nov. 25, some of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) coaches expressed their concerns at MVC media day Oct. 16.
MVC play is set to begin Dec. 30 with eight of the 10 teams taking the court that day. Due to NCAA COVID-19 guidelines, teams were allowed to start practicing Oct. 14 for a maximum of 20 hours per week with one day off.
The NCAA released health and safety guidelines Sept. 25 for college basketball specifically. The guidelines suggest testing three times per week on non-consecutive days throughout the season, including for officials. In addition, the NCAA stated if a player tests positive for COVID-19, their team would be out of competition for at least two weeks.
Indiana State University head coach Greg Lansing said while the NCAA has released guidelines, in order to feel truly comfortable for the upcoming season, there needs to be some consistency with protocols across the teams in the MVC. He specifically pointed out that some schools were planning on having fans in attendance while others weren’t.
“The conference has to be unified on what we’re doing,” Lansing said on the Zoom call. “It’s got to be fair in the Missouri Valley Conference. Maybe in the non-conference you do your own thing, but everybody needs to be doing the same thing by the time conference comes around.”
Ever since the Loyola men’s basketball team went to the Final Four in 2018, fan presence has increased and has become a pivotal part of each season. Pre-COVID-19, fans would line up outside Gentile Arena in hopes to get a spot and Loyola head coach Porter Moser has even egged on the crowd during games.
While Loyola Athletics hasn’t stated whether fans will be allowed or not, Moser said even though the fans may be missing out, he feels for the student-athletes more than anything. He also said fan presence would most likely not look how it normally does.
“The college atmospheres are so much part of what we are, but it’s just going to be another obstacle,” Moser said.
For the Ramblers, Moser said testing for COVID-19 currently happens once a week. Moser and the team are also just returning from a break from practice. He said once the MVC schedule was announced he realized in order to play on Dec. 30, he wouldn’t be able to send his players home for the usual holiday break. Rather than keeping them on campus from July 10 to potentially March or April, he sent the team home to spend time with their families.
“I just thought it was better mentally,” Moser said. “So, we just took a two-week break. And I know we could take another one if we get a positive test, but I thought it was worth the risk because of that.”
The other common worry for coaches is the lack of consistency among states with COVID-19 guidelines. The MVC is composed of schools from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Iowa, all of which have different guidelines for people traveling between states.
If the season were to begin tomorrow, Indiana schools coming to play Loyola would have to quarantine for two weeks before being able to play, considering Indiana is part of Chicago’s Emergency Travel Order. Valparaiso University’s head coach Matt Lottich said this was the biggest obstacle in his mind.
“The problem isn’t coaches agreeing to play, it’s the different states,” Lottich said at the media day. “What does travel look like? What does testing look like for those institutions? It’s trying to navigate that.”
MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin took the opportunity during the media day to talk about some of the MVC’s plans for navigating the basketball season during the pandemic. He said he’s feeling a lot better about testing protocols compared to how he was feeling in July.
Elgin also said the MVC office is working to establish some contingency plans in the case of teams having players test positive.
“It might not be fair and consistent across the leg,” Elgin said on the Zoom call. “Some teams may play another opponent one time. Others may eventually play an opponent two or possibly even three times, but what we’re going to do, if we have to, in February, is find a way to meet the maximum number of games and limit travel as much as possible.”
One of the biggest questions among the attendees was centered on how COVID-19 would affect Arch Madness. Elgin said there wouldn’t be a decision about the conference tournament until close to its scheduled start date March 4, but the MVC is exploring options in the event the tournament can’t be held.
Elgin was not immediately available for further comment.
Either way, coaches are just holding on in hopes they get to see the season through.
“There’s so many things that it has interrupted and changed,” University of Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson said at the media day. “A lot of them are more important than us playing basketball or us playing a league season. But man I hope it doesn’t interrupt our league’s season. Because as hard as it is I love competing against the teams in our league.”