Sunday, April 21, 2024

THE CHEAP SEATS WITH STEVE CAMERON: This won't happen come March

| December 6, 2020 1:20 AM

What if this had been a Final Four game?

It’s not a wild exaggeration to suggest that Gonzaga and Baylor could make it to that event next March — just as they planned to meet Saturday as the top-ranked teams in the nation.

Would health authorities from the state of Indiana or Marion County weigh in and suggest that the NCAA cancel a Final Four showdown just as they halted the Saturday game — except with truckloads of TV money on the line?

This is kind of a serious question, I think.

If positive Covid-19 tests had been recorded for one player – someone who is not in the Zags’ regular game rotation – and one staff member, would the NCAA and/or an opponent school just pull the plug?

I hate to be cynical, but I doubt it.

Make no mistake here: The NCAA absolutely will stage March Madness this time around, especially after losing $375 million from cancellation of last season’s tournament.

THE PLAN for 2021 is to bring everyone to the greater Indianapolis metro area, sequester them in hotels and play in several locations around the city.

Here’s the thing…

Gonzaga worked diligently to avoid a single positive test on this current road trip to Florida and then Indianapolis.

They managed to get games played against Kansas, Auburn and West Virginia, but hit the skids when another player and a staff member tested positive.

Remember, there should be five Zags still quarantining back in Fort Myers — two players (freshmen Julian Strawther and Dominick Harris) and three staffers who normally travel with the team.

To give you an idea of how seriously Gonzaga has been taking this pandemic, all the basketball players and staff (men and women) have basically been in a bubble the entire time they’ve been back in Spokane.

It’s ruled out all interaction with the rest of the student body.

“Not having our athletes being part of the whole student community is painful,” said Gonzaga AD Mike Roth.

“We have no choice if these young men and women want to compete while we’re dealing with this virus.

“It’s sad.”

It’s important to note here that the Zag bubble on campus allowed the school to avoid a single positive COVID test from the beginning of practice until the men’s team took off for Florida just before Thanksgiving.

IF THERE’S a message in this — the Zags and Baylor having to bail on a game the whole country wanted to see — I think it would be that the NCAA better have an amazing plan.

Gonzaga obviously has taken its virus prevention seriously.

And yet seven members of the traveling party (including three players) either have tested positive or been closely exposed to someone who did.

The hell of this thing is that it would only take ONE player or staff member to test positive, and dominoes could start to fall, because anyone in close contact should also have to quarantine.

Now explain to me how the NCAA plans to get 68 teams into town, bunk them snugly in hotels (separate from each other) and then tell everyone they can’t do anything but travel to and from various gyms – together, without a single outsider around at any time.

Perhaps that’s why the NCAA has made unofficial noises about cutting the field to 48 teams, or even just 16.

The cold truth is that they will have to risk COVID exposure to get games played.

If a player tests positive, he’s out.

Other than that…

Play ball.

If Saturday’s Gonzaga-Baylor game were happening at the NCAA Tournament, it would have been played.

Count on it.


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball which is published each Tuesday.