Pauses, schedule changes, and last-minute cancellations. Sound familiar?
Those COVID-related issues were the theme of the 2020-21 college basketball season. Now, after a relatively dormant summer and fall, COVID is once again wreaking havoc across college sports, and, so far, the MAAC has failed to adapt.
A scroll through Twitter or ESPN reveals an ever-growing list of postponements and cancellations of games throughout the sporting world. Even with vaccinations and an increased understanding of COVID, it feels a lot like last year, where teams were downright lucky to get through the season without having to go on pause.
Speaking of luck, at this point, it’s pretty much just a bad break if a player or a team comes down with the virus. There aren’t any Kyrie Irvings in the MAAC. The member institutions all required players to get vaccinated. When Marist women’s basketball had to pause because of a lack of healthy players earlier in the month, it was a tough break more than anything else.
It was a prime example that vaccinations do not guarantee immunity. The Red Foxes only missed a non-conference game against Stony Brook, but if the cases had occurred a week to ten days later, it would have forced Marist to forfeit MAAC games against Fairfield and Iona because of a lack of healthy players.
The MAAC’s guidelines say:
“For the 2021-22 AY (academic year) all canceled games related to a team not being able to field a team because of COVID issues including quarantines will be considered a forfeit and will not be rescheduled. Forfeited games are recorded as a loss for the team unable to compete, and as a win for the opponent.”
The guidelines state that a team needs eight healthy players and one healthy coach to compete. The MAAC upheld these guidelines on December 22, the day after the Big Ten became the first major conference to re-adjust its forfeit policy. The day the MAAC announced its intent to stand firm on its scheduling policy, a slew of leagues big and small relaxed their forfeiture rules.
The league said that the MAAC Committee on Athletic Administration will meet on January 5 to re-examine the policy. That’s soon, but is it soon enough?
The word forfeit is punitive by definition. While the NCAA does not count forfeits toward win-loss records and statistics, a conference is well within its rights to allow uncontested games to count against win-loss records in league play. This means that forfeits could have a very real impact on seeding in the MAAC Tournament in Atlantic City if the league does not do away with the current policy.
On Monday, Rider women’s basketball announced that its conference games against Niagara and Marist later this week had to be canceled because of COVID-19 issues in the Broncs program. Both games will count as conference losses, potentially hurting Rider’s seed in the MAAC Tournament.
Rider entered a pause a couple of hours after the MAAC re-affirmed its guidelines. That same day, the Siena women, fresh off a game with the Broncs two days earlier, suddenly abandoned a non-conference clash with Syracuse after learning that Rider had positive cases.
Siena did not end up going on pause, but another MAAC school, Quinnipiac, halted activities for its women’s team on Monday. Fans and media are starting to get a reminder of the onslaught of press releases from last season about teams having to go on pause. There would often be a domino effect, with one team announcing a pause only for its prior opponent to do the same moments later.
The same situation could very well happen after this week’s slate of games. There are more than 50 men’s basketball teams that have been or are currently on pause across Division I. On the women’s side, Rider and Quinnipiac’s situations have already forced several cancellations in league play. Like last year, all it takes is one positive case to throw a wrench into things for multiple teams.
As the Omicron variant sweeps across the country, it is a stark reminder that we are not out of the woods yet. We are in the middle of a pandemic that has killed over 800,000 Americans, and many sports leagues refuse to acknowledge that something is wrong. Sure, after last year, the last thing everyone wants is for COVID to get in the way again, but that’s exactly what’s happening.
Teams are vaccinated and following protocols but continue to test positive. COVID is just a part of reality. In the last two years, society has learned that it needs to be flexible in dealing with the pandemic. As it stands, the MAAC’s policy is much too rigid. A program should not be punished with a conference loss for an unlucky break and should have the chance to make up for lost games.
MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor and the committee on athletic administration have the power to correct the mistake of upholding the forfeit policy. The ball is squarely in their court.
Edited by Mackenzie Meaney and Bridget Reilly
Photo Credit: Luke Sassa