For the first in nearly 30 years of being involved in college basketball, Jeff Boals has plenty of free time during February.
Boals and his Ohio University men’s basketball team are beginning the second week of a COVID-19 shutdown imposed by at least one positive test and contact tracing issues within the program. Ohio (11-6, 7-4 Mid-American Conference) had a road game Saturday at Bowling Green postponed, as well as Tuesday’s home date with Akron.
The Bobcats have also already had this upcoming Saturday’s game at Western Michigan, and next Tuesday’s home game with Central Michigan postponed as well. The earliest OU could return to play in Feb. 17, and Ohio’s next scheduled game – currently – isn’t until Feb. 27 vs. Buffalo.
Ohio is not practicing currently, and Ohio canceled Boals’ regularly scheduled media availability for the week. The school has not termed this period a ‘pause’ but the Bobcats are essentially shut down until the roster numbers improve and/or COVID-19 testing indicates players can return to team activities.
But Boals did speak publicly on Wednesday, as part of his weekly radio coach’s show, and while the second-year bench boss didn’t illuminate any specifics about Ohio’s COVID-19 situation, he did speak on the challenges of this moment for his club.
Much of Boals’ time currently is spent checking on players, those in quarantine and outside it. The coach has been disappointed that his players haven’t been able to get any court time during this hiatus. Boals said many programs will allow players, even under quarantine, an hour or so of gym time (alone) a day.
“It’s unfortunate we don’t allow them to do that,” Boals said. “It’s the hand we’re dealt. You just have to deal with it and move on.”
Boals, again without mentioning specific testing or positive numbers, said he’s proud of how his team has approached the COVID-19 protocol this season.
“The first seven months we had nothing,” the coach said. “Our guys have done a real good job up to this point.”
When/if Ohio does resume the season, it likely won’t be with a complete roster, Boals cautioned. Center Rifen Miguel had missed the Bobcats last four games prior to the stoppage due to contact tracing concerns.
Those who have contracted the virus will be on a different timetable than those sitting for contact tracing, Boals said. Ohio may have enough players available to resume play, but doesn’t mean it will have everyone. In addition, once the Bobcats resume the season they’ll need a certain amount of time to get back up to speed in terms of conditioning.
“The majority of coaches that I’ve talked to say you need four to five days to ramp it back up,” Boals said. “And it’s not going to be where everyone is back on the same date.”
Also appearing on the coach’s show was MAC commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher. He’s facing a re-scheduling nightmare as approximately half the league is dealing with COVID-19 pauses at the moment. For instance, of the six conference games scheduled on Tuesday just one was played.
How will the MAC approach trying to fit in so many postponed games before the MAC Tournament begins on March 11?
“I wish my crystal ball spelled that out,” Steinbrecher joked. “We’re going to get a lot of games in, I’m confident of that.”
Getting them all in seems unlikely at this point. Ohio, for example, has nine games remaining – two scheduled and seven postponed – and will have at best approximately 2.5 weeks to get them in.
Steinbrecher said the focus of rescheduling efforts will directed toward making sure every team in the MAC plays every other team at least once. For OU, that means the makeup with Eastern Michigan would take priority.
After that, Steinbrecher said the conference would do the best it can.
“We’ll be trying to make it as fair as can be, but that doesn’t mean it will always be equal,” Steinbrecher said. “I’ve been gratified by how well our member institutions …have worked together and collaborated in order to get things done.”
Entering Wednesday, Ohio was sitting fourth in the conference standings after a season-best four-game winning streak. Toledo (11-2 MAC), Akron (9-3) and Kent State (8-4) hold the top three spots. Buffalo (6-4), Miami (5-5), Bowling Green (6-7) and Ball State (5-6) sit in fifth through eighth. Western Michigan (3-7), Central Michigan (2-9), Northern Illinois (1-6) and Eastern Michigan (1-7) will need considerable help to make the top 8 and qualify for the MAC Tournament.
It’s not an ideal situation for the Bobcats, but then it’s not been an ideal season for any team playing this winter.
“We knew going in not everyone was going to play 20 games,” Boals said.
“Now, it’s how we respond to it, how we deal with it.”