Orange Watch: Syracuse basketball season already changing course

Jim Boeheim Duke
Feb. 1, 2020; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim speaks with reporters following a 97-88 loss to the Duke Blue Devils. Mandatory Credit: Brad Bierman, The Juice Online.

Item: Only a week ago Jim Boeheim was detailing the technology and protocols the university and basketball program put in place to err on the side of caution during the ongoing pandemic. The specific strategy centers on maintaining as safe and healthy an environment as possible on a college campus during the current period of an exponential rise nationally in positive coronavirus test results. Then came Sunday’s attention-grabbing news that the now 76-year old Boeheim himself tested positive for COVID-19, immediately halting basketball operations. Some 30 basketball programs have also paused organized team activities around the country, which will necessitate a change for the upcoming regular season and March Madness.

Unlike the smaller composition and financial options that provide professional sports leagues and entities an ability to control their playing environments, those in college administration can only go so far with their financial resources and facilities while stressing the mandate to their athletes and staff to follow specific health and safety protocols, encourage responsible behavior in everyday life, and hope for the best.

Even with detailed plans and precautions, the contagiousness of this disease mandates total flexibility whether that’s playing/coaching shorthanded or postponing or canceling games.

FBS football has had 24 games altered the last two weeks, and as of Thursday there’s already 12 more games that have been halted this week (Syracuse football has done a remarkable job with testing, and thanks to a little bit of luck with its opponents health has been one of only two ACC teams – Boston College is the other- not to miss a scheduled game this season).

Similar to how the ACC built in two open weeks for each of the 15 football teams to allow for the flexibility of postponing games to a new date, the basketball schedule has seven Syracuse games to be played either on a Tuesday or Wednesday from late December through February to allow maneuverability should it be needed.

As of now, Syracuse is scheduled to face Bryant in its opener in two weeks (Nov. 27-3:00 p.m. ET/ACC Network), with the Big Ten Challenge game at Rutgers to be played next on Dec. 8. SU has been looking to finalize a home game in-between, but contract negotiations have been tedious this year as it relates to coronavirus testing/protocol language, delaying official announcements.

Now with Boeheim out and practice stopped, so much is unknown as to exactly how the schedule will end up materializing and how the two-games per week conference format will play out.

» Related: Syracuse basketball embarking on season like any other

In revealing last week that the 2021 NCAA Tournament will be played in one locale (the NCAA has to pull off this year’s March Madness after absorbing a whopping $375 million dollar loss from last spring’s cancelation), and preferably in its hometown Indianapolis, NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt summed up the similar problem of pulling off the regular season with hundreds of teams in multiple conferences scattered around the country.

“We have learned so much from monitoring other successful sporting events in the last several months, and it became clear it’s not feasible to manage this complex championship in so many different states with the challenges presented by the pandemic,” Gavitt said in the NCAA announcement.

Conference offices will face the same intricate management issues once the regular season begins next week.

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About Brad Bierman 766 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.