The idea for the column was already in my head, and the words were about to start flowing – “The Mountaineer football team was very fortunate this season not to have faced any of the pitfalls that had struck others when it came to COVID-19.”
Then came the e-mailed press release on Nov. 24 – “The Big 12 Conference announced this afternoon that the Oklahoma at West Virginia football game scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 28 at Milan Puskar Stadium has been postponed in accordance with the Conference’s game interruption guidelines.
“The postponement is in response to Oklahoma being unable to meet the required COVID-19 thresholds, as established by the Big 12 Conference. The conference has rescheduled the game for Dec. 12 in Morgantown and game time and television network will be released at a later time.
“I am disappointed for both teams, who have worked extremely hard in their preparation for this game,” WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons said.
The history buff in me wants to point out that Dec. 12 will be the latest regular season game ever for West Virginia football, deeper into the calendar that a Dec. 6, 2008 home contest against USF – A White Out Game, so named because it was Pat White’s final home contest with the Mountaineers – but in this bizarre year of 2020, such a footnote hardly seems to matter.
Certainly it was nice that WVU got through its first eight games of the 2020 football season without any interruptions. Considering that nearly 15% of college games have been postponed or cancelled this season because of coronavirus issues, getting through the first 80% of the season without similar problems was much better than others.
But then the shoe dropped and West Virginia experienced what others have gone through, even NFL teams. It didn’t matter that the Mountaineers had stayed above the COVID thresholds themselves, but still they were affected by someone 1,135 miles away. This is how things work in the coronavirus world; the healthy also can suffer.
WVU has gotten through much of the football season, and hopefully it can navigate its way through its final two regular season games and then a bowl game as well. In this pandemic world, though, nothing is definite.
While the football season has had plenty of bumps, the concern is that basketball season will have even more. An indoor sport with a great deal of person-on-person contact – both in games and practices – seems ripe for COVID problems.
Already we’ve seen signs of that college basketball could have big troubles. The fact that the NCAA is allowing teams to play as few as 13 games (less than half the allowed 27 this season) and still qualify for this year’s NCAA Tournament is the shining example that many cancellations are expected.
The Mountaineer men’s basketball team did get its season under way this past week with three games in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic, but even that event had difficulty getting off the ground.
When this tournament was originally organized last year, it was going to be held in the Bahamas and was supposed to feature West Virginia, Duke, Creighton, Memphis, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Utah and Wichita State.
The pandemic caused that Battle 4 Atlantis to be cancelled. It was revamped and moved to South Dakota, but those eight original participants began dropping by the wayside. By the time the reconstituted tourney tipped off this past Wednesday, only two of the original eight remained – WVU and Memphis. The others opted out because of COVID outbreaks of their own or over the fear about traveling to coronavirus hotspot like South Dakota.
Then came news of another quick adjustment in West Virginia’s basketball schedule when the Mountaineers, who had an open date because of a virus-related cancellation by Youngstown State, agreed to sub in for COVID-impacted Tennessee in a Dec. 2 game against No. 1 Gonzaga.
All these are signs of what the 2020-21 college basketball season will probably be like the entire way.
Hopefully a COVID-19 vaccine arrives soon, and for reasons much more important than athletics, but still such science is also the best – and maybe only – hope for normality in the sports world.