Ed Cooley and the Friars won’t open Big East play Saturday (Photo: TCU Athletics).
By KEVIN McNAMARA
Add Xavier to the long list of Big East basketball programs currently sidelined by COVID-19 outbreaks.
News broke Friday morning that in testing conducted Thursday Xavier had a positive case (not determined how many) in its program and won’t be able to open Big East play at Providence Saturday. Only a few hours later the Big East announced that Connecticut won’t be able to play its game at Providence next Thursday.
PC’s next scheduled game? Not until December 20 at Seton Hall. Look for the Big East office to try and juggle schedules and perhaps find the Friars a game sometime between next Monday and the 20th. Coach Ed Cooley said there is also a possibility of playing a non-conference game as well but that seems remote.
In the meantime, the Friars say they’ll treat this surprise break in the action as an exam break. PC’s players are in exam week starting Monday.
“This is normal for us,” Cooley said. “In a normal season we’d be off till Saturday (the 19th).”
The Musketeers were clearly ready for the start of Big East action as they’ve emerged as one of the nation’s surprise teams with a perfect 7-0 record after a big week of wins over rival Cincinnati and a 99-77 thrashing of a good Oklahoma team.
However Big East associate commissioner Stu Jackson called Cooley early this morning (`I knew he wasn’t calling to wish me a Merry Christmas’) and reported that Xavier had hit a COVID pause.
Xavier then announced its pause, which will knock out its first two Big East games, at a minimum. Cooley said he spoke with Musketeer coach Travis Steele and “he was devastated for his young men.”
While Xavier’s next game date is unknown, so is Providence’s. The Friars were scheduled to play UConn next Thursday but the Huskies aren’t able to leave their quarantine just yet.
According to UConn, “the Connecticut Department of Public Health, out of an abundance of caution, has advised UConn against competing in an intercollegiate contest before completing its recommended modified quarantine of 14 days. Daily testing has revealed no additional COVID-19 positive tests within the men’s basketball program since a student-athlete tested positive on Sunday, December 6. Should team personnel continue to test negative for COVID-19, the team will be allowed to return to practice on Monday, December 14, with additional risk-mitigation strategies in place until its 14-day quarantine is complete.”
Xavier and UConn join Butler (which has played one game) and DePaul (zero) on the COVID pause front. That’s raised the possibility that the Big East could pause its entire schedule while teams regain full health. Big East commissioner Val Ackerman and her staff have been juggling schedules recently and Ackerman told the Learfield IMG College forum this week that many options remain for the league, including a conference-wide pause if the spread of the virus continues to compromise Big East programs.
“I’m not quite there yet on the pause … but I agree that we have to be very vigilant about assessing the landscape, seeing how our plans are unfolding.” Ackerman said. “Our focus is on maintaining a safe environment for our athletes. We think we can do that right now with the way we travel, the way we conduct our games. But, I guess I would agree that if the virus significantly worsens, and there are signs that perhaps a break would be in our best interest, I think it would be hard to not support that approach.”
One thing that Big East coaches shouldn’t be doing? Going to campus bars to celebrate a big win.
Xavier’s Travis Steele, for the second straight year, left a big victory over Cincinnati and paid $1,000 towards fans’ bar tabs at a neighborhood bar, Dana Gardens. While Steele had his gaiter mask in place, he did pause for a few photos with fans and generally didn’t come close to staying `in the bubble’ of his team.
While some fans may be panicking, Cooley did not own a similar tone in his remarks to the press Friday. He pointed out that while he’d love to play 20 Big East games, that may not be allowed to happen. At 4-2, the Friars need to play seven more games to reach the NCAA’s 13-game minimum for this season.
“The rush to get to 13 is important. I think we’ll play more than 13 games,” Cooley said.