It’s March, and typically every college basketball team’s season is hanging by a thread this time of year.
But not for the particular reason that now finds the Bobcats holding their collective breath.
The Mid-American Conference announced Tuesday afternoon that Ohio’s game at Kent State on Tuesday night would be postponed (and not rescheduled) due to “roster issues with the Ohio men’s basketball team related to COVID-19 tests and subsequent contact tracing.”
Ohio (13-7, 9-5 MAC) began Tuesday scheduled for a 6 p.m. tipoff against the Golden Flashes (15-6, 12-5) in what figured to be a key seeding-settling matchup in advance of next week’s 2021 MAC Tournament. Both teams, along with Toledo, Akron, Buffalo, Bowling Green, Miami and Ball State had already earned spots in the eight-team bracket.
But by mid-afternoon, Ohio’s status for the rest of the season had come into question. According to the MAC’s announcement, the game postponement is the result of at least one positive test among the Bobcats’ roster. Presumably with subsequent contact tracing, Ohio would not have enough available players to field a competitive team against the Flashes.
However, later Tuesday afternoon Ohio Athletics — through a spokesperson — disputed the notion the Bobcats had to cancel the game because of low roster numbers. Instead, the spokesperson said, the game was cancelled after both teams decided to use extreme caution toward playing with the tournament right around the corner.
In January, Ohio head coach Jeff Boals confirmed his university’s COVID-19 protocol of a 10-day quarantine period for any player caught up in contact tracing. It means if a player, even if they did not test positive themselves, would have to quarantine for 10 days if judged to be have been in “close contact” with someone who had tested positive.
Contact tracing measures were largely accountable for the three game cancellations last fall for the Ohio football team, which completed just three games of a scheduled six-game slate.
Ohio has already endured a three-week stoppage due to COVID-19 issues. The Bobcats did not play from Feb. 3 through Feb. 22, and had five consecutive playing dates wiped out, due to positive tests and contact tracing issues.
The Bobcats returned from that hiatus last week, and won games on Feb. 23 and Feb. 25 against Akron and Eastern Michigan before losing to Buffalo on Saturday. All three games were at home in the Convocation Center.
However, Ohio’s latest COVID-19 issues could dramatically alter the end of the team’s season. Given Ohio’s 10-day quarantine period for contact tracing, the timing of the positive test and quarantine starts will be critical to determining the state of the OU roster for the MAC Tournament.
Ohio was notified about the COVID-19 issues prior to departure for Kent on Tuesday morning, according to the school. With the positive test/contact tracing begun on Tuesday, the 10-day quarantine period for any players affected would include the quarterfinal round date of March 11.
Ohio, according to the spokesperson, was “ready to play” on Tuesday after the testing information was gathered in the morning. The Bobcats remain ready to play for Friday’s scheduled road game at Bowling Green, and are still planning to be Cleveland for the MAC Tournament. To this point, Ohio’s roster has not been impacted to the level necessary to cancel games, according to the university.
At no point during this school year has Ohio University indicated how many of its basketball players – or any specific athletic team participants for that matter – have tested positive for COVID-19. The university has made no information available publicly about how many athletes in each sport have tested positive, and instead has released only department wide numbers.
Boals confirmed that he had tested positive himself for the virus during the Bobcats’ three-week hiatus in February, and said he spent his quarantine period in a hotel.
Currently, Ohio’s women’s basketball team and volleyball team are also in ‘pause’ mode due to low numbers of available athletes because of positive COVID-19 tests and the resulting contact tracing.
The women’s basketball team (12-5, 10-6) has also already qualified for a MAC tournament spot, but has had three straight games postponed/canceled and has not played since Feb. 13. OU is scheduled to play at Akron on Wednesday.
The volleyball team (4-3, 4-3) has seen four straight matches postponed and hasn’t played since Feb. 18. It is scheduled to host Ball State on Thursday.
Last week, the MAC announced how it would deal with potential tournament disruptions caused by COVID-19 issues. The formalized bracket is to be announced upon conclusion of play on Friday night.
“Prior to the announcement of the tournament bracket, if a team is forced to opt-out due to COVID-related issues, the next seeded team (#9) will be added to the tournament field, and seeds adjusted according to which team had to opt-out,” the league said in a statement.