Gonzaga playing shows NCAA’s lack of COVID-19 uniformity

61

Iona College’s basketball program was shut down for two weeks after a graduate assistant tested positive for COVID-19. Rider shut things down for two weeks because one player tested positive for the virus. Syracuse shut down after coach Jim Boeheim and one player tested positive.

Now, compare that to Gonzaga playing its game in the Fort Myers Tip-off against Auburn on Friday, despite a player and a staff member having tested positive.

Doesn’t add up, does it?

Gonzaga didn’t break protocol. The tournament and the Florida Department of Health ruled that the player who tested positive only had one close contact, a teammate, and therefore the Zags could play because everyone else had tested negative. Auburn had no problem playing the game because its doctors gave the green light to the decision.

“That’s honestly why the non-conference is foolish, because everybody is playing under different rules,” one assistant coach of a program that was shut down for two weeks told The Post. “Every state has different rules. Every conference has different rules. If it doesn’t get uniform, it’s unfair. You get certain teams with a major advantage.”

The NCAA decided against implementing uniformity. It chose to merely offer a guideline, that a positive test for any Tier 1 individual — a player, coach, manager or staff member — should lead to a 14-day pause and quarantine period. That was based on CDC regulations, but also allows for schools to defer to local health protocols. In other words, the sport’s governing body has the power to implement rules for everyone to follow, but instead has left it up to conferences, schools and local government and health officials.

The problem is many conferences aren’t following the guideline. It’s not just Gonzaga. Michigan State and Baylor had their head coaches test positive and didn’t pause workouts. Others have not followed the suggested 14-day pause after positive tests.

The Gonzaga situation, though, stands out because it involves players testing positive in-season. The two players — Dominick Harris and Julian Strawther — weren’t on the bench on Friday, but both had appeared in the Zags’ game against Kansas on Thursday. Both were in a mask-less team celebration in the locker room after the big victory over the Jayhawks that was posted on social media — and later deleted. Both were on a cross-country flight with teammates just a few days ago.

“What is a health official in Florida seeing differently than what we’ve been told?” an athletic director asked, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s not at all how we would handle this. We would have stopped, isolated and given time for contract tracing to go on. It’s not an hourlong decision.”

Once the news spread, the athletic director said he heard from a number of administrators in the industry, trying to understand how the game was played. He found it “impossible to believe” the Gonzaga player who tested positive had just one close contract.

A mid-major head coach, whose team has yet to register a positive test since practice began, but has had games canceled because of opponents shutting down, wasn’t as politically correct. He called the decision to play “bull—-,” and “reckless behavior.”

NCAA
Justin Powell of the Auburn and Gonzaga’s Aaron Cook fight for the ball.Getty Images

It could get worse, if it is revealed other Gonzaga players have the virus, and if they gave it to anyone on Auburn, or on Kansas the night before. This is how the virus spreads.

“We tested also, so you just do the best you can, and I’m glad we worked together and got the game in, and I hope nobody gets infected by it,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.

Hoping isn’t a plan. It’s a poor excuse for a bad decision.

Meanwhile, several programs have shut down for less than what is happening with Gonzaga. Those schools seem to understand what experts have said, that someone can test negative and not show symptoms, yet still be able to transmit the virus to others because the incubation period can last up to 14 days, according to the CDC.

Not everyone seems to get that. Playing college basketball during a pandemic is a risk. It’s an even greater risk not to be extra safe.

“A player [testing positive] has to shut down your team,” the mid-major head coach said.

The NCAA and its membership has the power to create one set of rules for the virus to avoid confusion and create uniformity. It has chosen not to. And the result could endanger this makeshift season.