By BRYCE ADDISON M. PINEDA
With the return to normalcy just around the corner, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is capitalizing on this opportunity to bring athletes back on the court. However, is that truly the best decision?
After being cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament returns for the first time in two years on Mar. 18.
Due to the unforeseeable circumstances that occurred last year, the NCAA was forced to postpone their 2020 NCAA Division I Tournaments slated to begin last Mar. 17, a first for the organization since its conception in 1939.
This year, the organization is taking precautionary measures in order to ensure the safety of both the players and the staff involved. Unlike previous years, the entire tournament is going to occur only in the city of Indianapolis, Indiana in order to easily maintain controlled environments that hold only 25% of their original capacity. The 2,300 players are tested daily, have their own hotel floors and are prohibited from roaming around the city in order to practice social distancing guidelines. These preventative measures seem to be positive but it is uncertain if they can prove to be effective in the grand scheme of things.
With all of the problems and complications faced by the NCAA, going through with the event would merely result in unfair competition. Through the exclusion of some teams from the roster this year, the results would be inconclusive and an inaccurate representation of how well the teams did. Even though fans of collegiate sports have been patiently waiting to see their favorite ballers in the court again, it would not be the wisest decision to push through with the event given its current conditions.
One of the many complications that the NCAA is facing during this year’s tournament is the rampancy of virus outbreaks that can spread within teams. Recently, Duke University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville were all pulled from the roster because of health concerns. Essentially, this counted as a forfeit on their part caused by an undesirable factor that was out of their hands. This begs the question: is it fair for the NCAA to continue this year’s division if the circumstances grant an unfair disadvantage to those teams that are unable to compete?
It can be argued that the NCAA is merely enforcing these rules in order to comply with COVID-19 safety standards, but that does not seem to be the case at all. Despite enforcing a rule that prevented positive-testing teams from competing in the tournament, the organization is choosing to allow teams to compete even if they have an outbreak if it occurred after the selection granted that they still have five healthy players and a coach. According to Dan Gavitt, the senior vice president of basketball of the NCAA, the reasoning behind this decision was because the association thought that it would be the fairest course of action to take.
“The committee talked about this and wrestled with contingencies and thought it was fairest for a team that had a great season, earned their way into this tournament, even if they were to be compromised in some way, if they have five players, they have the opportunity to compete rather than be replaced,” Gavitt said.
If the NCAA deems it to be necessary to follow through with this event, they should at least provide the players with the vaccine in order to ensure the safety of all parties involved. The organization is taking all of these drastic measures, but in the end, there is still a large possibility that the virus can spread throughout teams in this tournament given the close proximity of the players on the playing field. Therefore, it would behoove the NCAA to administer the vaccine towards its collegiate players in order to provide a much higher level of safety for the participants and the spectators.
The Kansas Jayhawks have been training in anticipation of the return of the event, but on Mar. 12, the team had to withdraw because of positive tests from two of their most valuable players. In a statement, coach Bill Self expressed his disheartenment at the outcome, since the team worked so hard to earn their position in the Big 12.
“Obviously we are disappointed and our players are disappointed that they can’t continue to compete for the Big 12 championship,” Self said. “We have followed daily testing and additional protocols that have been set up for us. Unfortunately, we caught a bad break at the wrong time.”
Currently, cases of the virus have been slowly declining as the vaccine makes its rounds across the country. With a little more patience, collegiate sports fans can look forward to seeing their favorite athletes playing in a much safer environment if the division were to be postponed to ensure everyone’s safety.