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UNC’s Saturday matchup against UCLA may be in jeopardy

UCLA cancelled a midweek game due to concerns with the coronavirus, which seem to be overtaking the entire sports world at the moment

NCAA Basketball: Alabama State at UCLA Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Things have escalated quickly for UCLA’s men’s basketball team. Yesterday, they first announced that head coach Mick Cronin was not going to be available on the sidelines for their home game against Alabama State, and then, four hours later, decided to call off the game altogether:

This raised a few questions: had there been a COVID-19 outbreak in the UCLA locker room, for one thing, or a rash of positive tests in the four-hour interim, or was this an abundance of caution? Chief among those questions, especially for those of us on the opposite coast, was simply how was this going to affect a bigger game on Saturday (no disrespect to Alabama State), namely, the CBS Sports Classic matchup in Las Vegas between UCLA and UNC.

The official answer, as of right now, is that it won’t. UNC’s Senior Associate Athletic Director (aka Guy Who Handles Stuff) Steve Kirschner said to media yesterday that the plan hasn’t changed: “As of right now, we’re playing UCLA. We’re going to practice today after this to get ready to play UCLA and go to Las Vegas with every intention of playing UCLA.” In his Thursday press conference, Hubert Davis more or less echoed that sentiment, adding that he obviously had experience with rescheduling games due to COVID from last year. One assumes it would be on UNC to find another opponent if UCLA were to necessitate this game being cancelled rather than on CBS. Meanwhile, UCLA’s Athletic Director Martin Jarmond Tweeted out this statement from his Notes app earlier today:

It’s not quite as optimistic as Kirschner’s statement; to say “we do not have an update” rather than “we’re playing [UNC]” implies at least some expectation of an update — but there isn’t one, and it’s also totally possible we go into Saturday with that remaining the case. So, the short answer is that yes, all signs right now are that the game in Las Vegas is happening.

The longer answer is that the Wednesday cancellation was just the latest episode in a quickly-expanding series of COVID-19 ravaging the world of sports in the past week or two. More than 70 NFL players tested positive just on Monday and Tuesday of this week and are in isolation; more than 30 NBA players are also being held out of action due to health and safety protocols; 24 NHL players have entered COVID-19 protocols since Monday and 3 of the Calgary Flames’ games have been postponed; and a rash of college basketball action has been canceled: in addition to Alabama State-UCLA, we’ve had it happen to Duke-Cleveland State (since replaced with Loyola-MD), Seton Hall-Iona at Madison Square Garden, Penn State at VCU. George Washington has preemptively announced that their next two home games will be fanless. A combination of the new Omicron variant and a country continuing to pretend that this pandemic isn’t ongoing for fear of offending those who have made it that way have combined to create a situation that seems to only keep escalating, and it’s hard to see that taking a pause for UNC-UCLA if more people in the program than just the coach have tested positive recently

UPDATE: Ohio State is now dealing with COVID issues and will not make the trip to Vegas for the other CBS Sports Classic game.

Well, I guess UNC has a ready-made replacement if things do go south for Saturday. It’s hard to see things slowing down after that, though. In college basketball and all sports, it may be time to take a short break — that thing we did way back in the spring of 2020 when we didn’t have many other options. It might be time to stop pretending, that in the age of anti-vaxxers and people in power without the spine to stand up to them, that we have those options now.