The Effects of COVID-19 on College Hoops

The 2020-21 college basketball season is off to a rocky start. Multiple teams every week get hit with positive COVID-19 tests and are forced to shut down. This brings an ethical question to light: should athletes play games during a pandemic, especially as COVID cases and deaths rise across the country?

By Brian Zhang

After a couple of months into the college basketball season, it’s been a bumpy road as we’ve seen a plethora of games that have been canceled. According to CBS sports, there have already been 64 games postponed or dropped in 2021, all called off due to COVID-19 outbreaks at universities.

Late last month, one cancellation came from a much-anticipated matchup between the top two teams in the country: No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor. Less than 90 minutes before tip-off, the game was called off. According to a statement released by both schools, a Gonzaga player, and somebody else in the Zags’ traveling party, tested positive for Coronavirus. 

“We’re disappointed to not be able to play one of the most anticipated games of the season, but we are following the advice of public health officials,” read a joint statement attributed to Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Baylor coach Scott Drew.

“When we decided to play during a pandemic, our priorities were protecting the health and safety of student-athletes and following public health guidelines, and we’re proud of how both programs have held true to those promises.”

With lots of talk and excitement surrounding the game, much speculation rose after COVID-19 cases were brought to the public eye. It has forced us to reevaluate whether college basketball should continue amid a nationwide surge of the pandemic. In December, new daily cases rose 10.7 percent in the United States, COVID-related hospitalizations rose 12.7 percent, and COVID-related deaths rose 35.0 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising Americans to neither travel nor gather.

“It’s a fair question to ask, ‘should we be doing this?’ We are going to continue to see these kinds of disruptions over and over again,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. “We felt like we knew this would be a bumpy ride throughout the wintertime with programs pausing activity and games being postponed or canceled.”

To date, roughly 21 percent of all games scheduled have been postponed or canceled. Just last week, a total of 18 games were called off. It’s a shame to see many disruptions in the scene of college basketball; however, the 2020-21 season will persist. The major inconsistencies are only a hint of what’s to come as the season progresses into March.

“This is total chaos,” sportscaster Dick Vitale said. “My feeling from Day 1 was that we should’ve started the season around February and then played conference games because this thing is out of control. Basketball is my life and my love. But it comes secondary when the disease is running rampant. We’re going to have a lot of this happen and we should be listening to the experts.”

“The bottom line is that we should not just be playing games to get games done, then having them canceled,” Vitale said. “That’s not good for the student-athletes or anybody.”

This unprecedented time has changed the landscape of basketball dramatically. Many are on the fence as to whether it’s ethical for the 2020-21 season to pursue. As of now, it seems likely it will, although the NCAA has not come out with a new statement. The rest of the season will be a difficult one to complete, but all fingers are crossed for a 2021 March Madness to finish off the year strong.