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New NCAA coronavirus guideline could ‘destroy’ college basketball seasons

One coach called it a “monster” roadblock. Another described it as “extreme.” A source from the Big East suggested it could lead to alterations in its planning for the season.

The NCAA, through the Sport Science Institute and its COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group, released health and safety guidelines and recommendations for college basketball’s Nov. 25 return amid the coronavirus pandemic, and one suggestion stood out:

If a player tests positive, the entire team should quarantine for 14 days and only work out individually in that time period, while noting that public health officials can override these determinations. That, depending on when a player tests positive, could wipe out up to four games and two weeks of practices.

“My first reaction was: How are we going to have a season if that’s going to be the case?” one head coach said. “One case is almost going to destroy your season. I think it’s too harsh. As long as you’re testing every other day, I don’t understand why it has to be that long.”

The NCAA also recommended testing players, coaches and officials three times per week on nonconsecutive days, as was expected. The quarantine protocol, though, was seen as overly cautious by some. There isn’t a similar recommendation in college football, though the NCAA doesn’t have the same power in that sport. The College Football Playoff, unlike the NCAA Tournament, is run independently from the sport’s governing body and conferences create their own protocols.

“Let’s say this happens to Villanova on Feb. 15, and they’re quarantining the rest of February,” the coach said. “Then they are going into the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament without having practiced for two weeks. They could be the best team in the country, it’s still going to have a huge effect on them.

“If you weren’t testing regularly, I would understand it. It seems like you don’t need both of those things, [frequent testing and 14-day quarantine].”

The NCAA didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Until this announcement, the Big East had focused on attempting to play league games at home sites, but this new recommendation could make them revisit the idea of bubbles, a source said. St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg acknowledged the “challenge” the 14-day quarantine suggestion would create. But he also noted that if a player tested positive, it would mean that player would have exposed himself to the players he had been practicing and playing with.

“That’s what they are saying,” said Cragg, who is on the Big East COVID-19 Task Force. “Is it a tough standard? Yes, sports are tough in a pandemic.

“I think the recommendations are from people who studied this and lived this.”

Of course, it’s only late September. The season is two months away. A lot can change between now and Nov. 25. The nature of the virus could be different. More updates are bound to arise. Tweaks could be made, as the NCAA made clear in the announcement. The landscape in college football looks awfully different now compared to late June.

“My understanding is there will be continual look-ins and evaluations and meetings,” Cragg said.

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