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Saunders: A March without Madness?



GREENSBORO, N.C. — On Wednesday night, in one of the most bizarre sequences of events to ever occur in the sporting world, the NBA postponed its season minutes after Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert reportedly tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Gobert’s Jazz have played a half-dozen teams in the 11.5-day incubation period and those teams have played every other team.

Without available testing for not just players, but referees, coaches, trainers and other team and arena staff members, playing NBA games, with or without fans in the stands, was immediately and obviously untenable.

With 11 NBA teams and NHL teams sharing venues, you can count most of that league in the potentially infected category, as well, and the league has been widely speculated that it will shut down on Thursday.

So far, March Madness is still on, at least for now, with the NCAA announcing earlier on Wednesday that games will be played, but without fans in attendance.

But that is quickly going to become an unfeasible goal.

Take, for instance, what occurred late on Wednesday night in Indianapolis. Nebraska coach Fred Hoiburg became ill during the game and was taken to a hospital for testing while his team was quarantined in the arena.

It turns out that Hoiburg has Influenza A, a more-common and less-deadly disease. But it is of course March in America. It’s still flu season. Players and coaches are going to get sick and going to be sick.

If Hoiburg had gotten ill before the game, instead of during it, they would have had to call off the game until he could be tested.

Then there’s the butterfly effect. It only took one positive test to make the NBA schedule untenable. There are 353 Division I teams, all of which are playing in conference tournaments in centralized locations and all of which are scheduled to send at least one team to the NCAA Tournament.

What are the odds that we make it through the next week without a single player, coach or family member from any of those teams coming down with the illness?

And then as soon there is one positive test, the potential infection dominoes start spreading until half the field is wiped out.

It’s even worse for the NCAA than it is for the pro leagues. You can’t play a tournament bracket without all of the teams participating.
What if Hoiburg had tested positive? The entire Big Ten would have to be quarantined. Would anyone want to see the tournament played without a half-dozen top teams?

A March without Madness seems a bitter pill to swallow for sports fans. But until there is a testing level that can guarantee the health and safety of the players and other essential personnel, it’s what needs to happen.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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