UPDATE: Literally two minutes after I published this article, the ACC announced that the UNC-Miami game that had been scheduled for 7:00 PM today has been postponed. The announcement was as follows: ““The postponement follows a meeting of personnel from both schools, who mutually concluded the game could not move forward today.” When the game may be played in the future, or how long UNC might be on pause, remain to be seen. For the context surrounding this postponement, read below:
It wasn’t entirely unpredictable that, with students on campus, UNC’s win over Duke would result in some... let’s call it COVID-unfriendly behavior. After a year like last year, a big win over Duke feels sweet, and while the University discouraged such behavior ahead of the game, pictures quickly circulated of people who were probably students gathering excitedly on Franklin Street, jumping over bonfires, bringing out furniture, the whole nine yards. I’m not going to embed pictures in this article, but if you want to look, they can be found here. The University is already taking steps to address this, opening up conduct investigations and delaying the start of any in-person classes by 2 weeks to account for students’ likely need to quarantine.
And as anybody with even a passing knowledge of how college students thinks can probably assume, house parties often follow this kind of exuberance — and after almost 12 months of almost nothing to be this viscerally happy about, COVID-19 wasn’t going to stop that from happening, as much as we’d like it to. What might be slightly more unexpected was, even given protocols that are much stricter than those of the average college student (which is to say, any protocols at all), the Daily Tar Heel obtained video over the weekend that appears to show UNC basketball players Day’Ron Sharpe and Armando Bacot at one of said parties, with a group of at least five other people, none of whom seem to be wearing face coverings.
In terms of strictly basketball (as far as such a thing exists) and any protocol-related fallout from this information, here’s what we know so far: The ACC has established that it, as a league, has left and will continue to leave the handling of such incidents to the universities that the players represent — as long as they test negative for COVID-19 the day of a game, they are eligible to play. Roy Williams, through UNC spokespeople, has said that he will address the situation with the media after tonight’s game. Brendan Marks, through his sources, expects both players to play against Miami “in some capacity,” whatever that may mean (as long as they test negative). So as far as discipline or consequences, unless Sharpe or Bacot turns out to have contracted the virus (in which case we’ll have bigger things to worry about than missed games), it looks like it will come from Roy Williams, and be by choice rather than by mandate.
UNC football and men’s basketball have been extraordinarily charmed this academic year in terms of COVID-19 not having been measured to enter either locker room since the football season started. A lot of us were pretty sure coming into the basketball season that the coronavirus was going to affect UNC’s season pretty drastically, and it’s been basically pure chance that it hasn’t done so more than it has. Plenty of teams across the country have been put on weeks-long pauses or even cancelled their seasons, and it’s not like those schools’ players or students are, on aggregate, any more or less responsible than UNC’s. It’s easy to assign blame to the players in question here because we know who they are, but the reality is that life has been hard and unfair for far too long and I can’t really fault them, or anybody, overmuch for wanting to partake in a celebratory tradition on one of the biggest nights of their lives. Was it a bad, irresponsible decision on their parts? Sure, but only as much as having a college sports season has been, a decision that has directly led to this and similar situations across the country. Blaming them, rather than understanding that this is the consequence of a non-bubbled college basketball season and rushing students back to campus before we as a country are ready for it, is just not accounting for human behavior. We can only hope that the two players managed to somehow avoid the virus, and if one or either have contracted it, that it stays as contained as possible. We’ll let you know what Coach Williams has to say about this after tonight’s game. Stay safe, everybody.