ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — St. Bonaventure men’s basketball coach Mark Schmidt said he didn’t know what Zoom was until March 20. 

After the coronavirus shut down the 2019-20 college basketball season before it could end, he was forced to learn. 

And until his players arrived back on campus recently for summer workouts, that is how he has communicated with his team of 12 players. 

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While Schmidt is happy to see his players in the flesh again and intrigued at the thought of a new season around the corner, he didn’t let the reality of the pandemic get too far out of sight during a video press conference Friday. 

“Some kids have been affected by it [coronavirus]; they know people who have had it. Other kids don’t,” Schmidt said. “When you’re 18 to 22 years old, if you’ve never experienced it or never seen it, you don’t think it’s real. It’s our job to educate them, making sure that they’re washing their hands, keeping distance and keeping their masks on. 

 “Number one is the safety and well-being of our players. Forget about basketball. Basketball is secondary. I think we’ve done a really good job in making sure that the environment is good for them to be safe.”

TESTING AND PROTOCOLS: SO FAR, SO GOOD

SBU men’s basketball players returned on July 18 and 19; the majority of women’s players returned on July 25. Players on both teams were required to test negative for COVID-19 twice before participating in workouts (once in their hometowns and again after arriving on campus).

SBU released COVID-19 test results for players and staff who have been tested on campus. According to a university press release issued Friday, 27 athletics staff members and 23 basketball players have been tested for COVID-19; nobody has tested positive. 

Scott Eddy, SBU’s assistant athletic director for athletics communications, told TAPinto Greater Olean Tuesday that some players have not been permitted access to campus due to delays with their hometown COVID-19 test results. It is unclear whether SBU has received those results yet. 

According to the press release, SBU will have a COVID-19 testing machine available on campus to test athletes. The university has not yet responded to TAPinto Greater Olean’s request seeking additional information on the device. 

In addition to COVID-19 testing, SBU has implemented several other health and safety precautions that athletes, coaches and staff are required to follow during basketball workouts this summer. Eddy said the same protocols will be in place for other student-athletes of fall/spring sports who will participate in workouts once they arrive in late August.

  • Athletes will fill out a health screening form each day they are on campus through an app before going to class or attending team activities.
  • Any athlete flagged from the COVID-19 health questionnaire will be evaluated by a physician.
  • Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 while on campus will be taken to a local testing center for another test and be moved to a quarantine room on campus. A second positive test will result in a 14-day quarantine while being attended to daily by training staff.
  • One positive test within a team will prompt testing of each player and staff member.
  • Hand sanitizer and disinfectant will be available in all buildings and areas athletes frequently access.
  • Policies will be set in motion to keep each basketball cleaned and wiped down before and after each practice/workout.
  • Masks will be provided to each athlete. All coaches and staff will wear masks at all times.

PLAYERS OPTING OUT OF THE SEASON? 

Major League Baseball has been hit hard by COVID-19 after just one full week of games. As many as 16 members of the Miami Marlins tested positive for COVID-19. The St. Louis Cardinals reported two positive tests on Friday. As a result, both teams and their opponents have been forced to put their seasons on hold for the time being. 

As training camp begins across the National Football League, a growing number of positive cases have been confirmed. Across the collegiate landscape, a large number of Division I schools have reported positive test results during summer workouts. Some schools had to suspend activity due to significant outbreaks. 

No matter the precautions in place, some players don’t see the risks of playing a sport during an ongoing pandemic, which has taken the lives of  151,499 Americans to date, worth it. 

A large number of players in professional sports, especially in the NFL and MLB, have decided to opt out their seasons. College sports may be next to face that reality. 

A Virginia Tech football player became the first student-athlete to opt out of the 2020 season.  Schmidt, though, said he doesn’t foresee players making that decision in college basketball.

“I don’t think kids are going to opt out in college basketball,” Schmidt said. “I know it’s happened in football. I can see in football because it’s a contact sport. Basketball is a little bit different. I don’t think players are going to opt out, but I could be wrong.”

ATLANTIC 10 SCHEDULE AND FANS:

Earlier in July, Atlantic 10 Conference institutional leaders postponed fall sports, but agreed to a “look-in window” in mid-September, allowing for a potentially truncated competitive schedule among conference opponents if COVID-19 risks have been reduced substantially. 

Basketball season is still scheduled to begin in November, but Schmidt knows that too could change. 

On July 1, Iona head coach Rick Pitino suggested that the college basketball season should start in January with conference-only schedules. 

While Schmidt said it’s too early for any certainties, he acknowledged the possibility of  a shortened season. Until an official decision is made, though, he said his staff and players are going to prepare for a full season with both conference and non-conference games. 

The Atlantic 10 released conference pairings on Thursday. 

“You hear that the season is going to be just like it was every year, then you hear that you’re only going to play conference games, then you hear that there won’t be any season at all,” Schmidt said. “If I was a betting man, I would say it’s going to be January, and we’re going to play 18 to 20 conference games and play the A 10 tournament.” 

While it’s another hypothetical, it’s becoming increasingly likely that fans will be left out of the picture if and when the 2020-21 season starts. 

 If it does come to that, Schmidt knows that the Bonnies will lose a big edge in the Reilly Center, which has long been one of the best home-court advantages in all of college basketball.  

“I always say that the Reilly Center is one of the best places to play in the country. It’s one of the most difficult places to play in the Atlantic 10. There’s a reason why we’ve had a lot of success at home. We’ve had good players and so forth, but it’s the support we get from the students and the community. It’s unmatched. If we can’t have fans in the stands, it will make it much easier for the opponent. That’s a concern, but I will understand why they may have to do it.” 

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on July 21 that fans would not be able to attend professional or collegiate sporting events in the fall, but did not make any clear decisions on winter sports, such as basketball. 

Eddy told TAPinto Greater Olean Tuesday season ticket holders will have the option to receive a refund or opt out and return in 2021-2022 if they cannot attend games in the Reilly Center this season. The athletics department has looked at a number of options if fans are permitted to attend basketball games this winter, but could not release specifics.

CHALLENGE OF SUMMER WORKOUTS AND THE UPCOMING SCHOOL YEAR:

Bona basketball players will remain on campus until classes begin on Aug. 24. 

Until then, Schmidt said one of his biggest concerns will be about his players getting back into basketball shape. Since March, some of his players had gyms and training facilities at their disposal, others did not. 

“We did a lot of zoom stuff,” Schmidt said. “We did a lot of zoom stuff. Every morning, strength and condition coach [Darren] Fiske put them through workouts, just to keep the kids in some type of shape. 

“The biggest concern now, when we get the kids back now is one, making sure they’re safe from the virus but secondly, they don’t get hurt. Pulling muscles, hamstrings, groins. For the first two weeks, we just finished conditioning, and trying to get the kids back into some basketball shape without hurting them.”

But when thousands of other students from across the map arrive on a staggered schedule three weeks from now, it will be the basketball bubble no more. 

Cattaraugus County has been fortunate to see low numbers of COVID-19 cases to date. There are 10 active COVID-19 cases in the county; 111 residents have recovered, and four have died. With an influx of people, though, concerns will grow. 

 “We’re going to follow all the rules and regulations the school, the Atlantic 10, the NCAA has put out there. We’re going to do the best job we can. We’ve done a good job so far, but the students haven’t come back.

“The challenge is when the students come back: can we be as disciplined as we are right now?”

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