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Column: This college basketball mess was easy to see coming

Virus has caused scheduling chaos

West Virginia and Gonzaga play during the first half of a college basketball game last Wednesday, in Indianapolis. Gonzaga was scheduled to play Baylor but the game was canceled due to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
West Virginia and Gonzaga play during the first half of a college basketball game last Wednesday, in Indianapolis. Gonzaga was scheduled to play Baylor but the game was canceled due to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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It’s not working.

The manner in which college basketball is attempting to operate right now during the raging COVID-19 pandemic isn’t sustainable or smart.

You don’t have to look far to see the chaos being caused by the coronavirus. The UMass Lowell men’s basketball team has seen their last three scheduled games get either canceled or postponed, due to the health crisis.

The River Hawks’ game slated for Wednesday at Northeastern has been postponed after two members of the River Hawks’ Tier 1 travel party tested positive for COVID-19. The university said all other Tier 1 members have received negative results and will continue to undergo surveillance testing, and the university has commenced its isolation and quarantine protocols as previously established. This comes after UML had last Friday’s scheduled home opener against Sacred Heart postponed and then Saturday’s scheduled home opener against Bryant postponed.

It’s the second time the UMass Lowell men’s program (1-3) has had to pause activities this season. Meanwhile, the UML women’s team has also gone through a pause in activities, due to COVID-19, and has only played one game thus far — an 88-38 loss at Boston College on Sunday.

As of now, the UML men aren’t scheduled to play again until the America East opener against Vermont on Dec. 19 at Costello Athletic Center. The women’s team is scheduled to play at UConn on Saturday (1 p.m.). The status of those games could change at any minute between now and then.

Dozens of Division 1 basketball programs across the nation are currently temporarily shutdown, due to COVID-19. This past weekend, a total of eight games featuring teams from the men’s and women’s top 25 were canceled or postponed due to the virus, including the much-anticipated men’s contest between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor.

Of course, this has also been common practice during the college football season. But the sport has tried to power through, despite the poor optics.

Hall of Famer and old friend of Boston, Rick Pitino, who is now the head coach at Iona, has numerous times offered his take on a solution to the extremely fickle and uncertain college basketball climate.

“I’ll say it again, to anyone who will listen, push the season back to March, and then have May Madness,” Pitino tweeted on Nov. 23. “Give the vaccine a chance. In the best interest of all involved!”

It’s a pretty decent idea. Logistically, I’m not sure if it’s possible. Then again, I’m just a sportswriter, and not an NCAA-employed bureaucrat who gets a fat six-figure salary to figure those things out.

Even if the parties involved don’t want to adjust the season schedule that drastically, they can’t possibly say with a straight face that the way things are going is the right path.

The reality is, playing a non-conference schedule was a poor decision from the get-go. The more appropriate play would’ve been to tip-off the 2020-21 season after Christmas and keep it to conference schedules and then a conference tournament.

That would’ve significantly limited travel and allowed programs to have a closer eye on the doings and goings-on of only the teams within their league.

The NCAA and numerous coaches have made clear their desire to have an NCAA Tournament this season. They do not want to face the financial and competitive downfalls of missing out on another March Madness.

To that point, the NCAA has already announced its plans to hold the entire 2021 NCAA tourney in one location, with the Indianapolis area as the likely choice. It’s an excellent decision that will make testing for the virus more effective and create a much lower-risk bubble atmosphere for the teams involved.

Under normal circumstances, 13 sites across the country would’ve hosted a round, which would have made for a disaster.

A disaster is what we’re seeing right now. There is absolutely no flow to this college basketball season. The cycle of positve tests, quarantines, scrambling to find an opponent (any opponent from anywhere), playing a game, then back to more positive tests isn’t beneficial to anyone.

The chaos has already been caused, and we all knew it was coming back on Nov. 25 when the season started.

It’s time to clean up the mess

Shut the games down now and start them back up in a few weeks with conference play.

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