LOUDONVILLE — MAAC basketball has its schedule.
Now, set to play its 2020-21 campaign amid a coronavirus pandemic, can the league keep to it?
That’s the question Siena and its fellow league members will need to evaluate throughout the 2020-21 MAAC season, which starts Dec. 8 at Rider for the Siena men and Dec. 9 vs. Niagara for the Siena women. The MAAC released 20-game schedules for each of its teams Tuesday, and those schedules include an empty week at the end of February to be used for league contests that need to be rescheduled from earlier in the season because of issues related to the pandemic.
“Oh, I expect we’ll be dealing with a few of those,” MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said Tuesday of the possibility of needing to move games to that, for now, open week. “Just look at what’s happened with college football.”
That sport has seen its share of games need to be canceled or postponed because of issues related to the pandemic, and the latest came Tuesday — a few hours after Ensor spoke with The Daily Gazette — when Notre Dame and Wake Forest postponed its game scheduled for Saturday because Notre Dame had seven players test positive Monday for the coronavirus and 13 players overall in isolation.
The MAAC is prepared to modify its schedule, as needed. Earlier this year, the league adjusted its bylaws to allow greater flexibility to reschedule games related to “unforeseen conflicts,” and those changes codified the conference’s ability to move games — or, as Ensor put it, they provided the league “wide latitude to reschedule” games rather than force one team to forfeit.
What those changes didn’t do, though, is come up with set guidelines related to what would necessitate a game be postponed.
“As a league,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said, “we’ve still got to nail that down.”
Every season, teams play games without their full complement of players. Obviously, though, missing a player or five because of issues related to a pandemic represents a different situation than a squad needing to play without a player dealing with an ankle injury.
D’Argenio said he expects the league to use the next few weeks to come up with some baseline parameters to follow, but Ensor said it’s unlikely the league will institute a set-in-stone policy. Language in the league’s “unforeseen conflicts” bylaw includes that each situation “will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the MAAC office, in consultation with the respective athletic directors involved,” and Ensor said his expectation is the league will consider within that process how missing players will affect a team’s ability to compete at its normal level.
“Basketball is a little bit more troublesome than football for that because if you lose three or four starters, you might have 10 players left, but can you really be competitive?” Ensor said. “So there are going to be a lot of judgment calls, and I’ve already talked to our coaches about that.”
Part of that talk, Ensor said, involved how there can be “no gamesmanship” when it comes to a team seeking a postponement, meaning that the motive for moving games to that open week in February needs to be related to health and safety, and to maintaining competitive balance — but not to try to find a competitive advantage because a key player is dealing with an ailment unrelated to the pandemic.
“Everyone has to be honest and has to adhere to all the protocols,” Siena men’s head coach Carmen Maciariello said of Ensor’s message to the league’s coaches. “If a student-athlete has an elevated temperature . . . it has to be reported. Everyone has to be honest. But you also can’t use it as an excuse if you have an injury. Everything has to be on the up-and-up.”
This week, the NCAA is expected to announce testing protocols that basketball teams will need to follow for a season that’s allowed to start Nov. 25 with non-conference games. The MAAC’s schedule is spaced out to allow ample time between games for coronavirus testing, with the men scheduled to play on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the women scheduled to play on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If circumstances dictate it’s possible, Ensor said the league could allow in January and February for teams to make slight adjustments to their schedules to help with travel considerations.
For instance, in January, both Siena teams are scheduled to play back-to-back road games at Canisius and Niagara in western New York. In a normal season, such a road trip would involve Siena playing two games in three days. As currently scheduled, the Siena teams will play those two games in four days, a less-than-ideal scenario that the MAAC is willing to adjust, if able.
“We have anticipated that. We’ll see how it works. That’s a whole other question,” Ensor said. “But, if the testing is working as anticipated, we could tighten that up.”
Siena’s non-conference schedules are still coming together following the NCAA moving the season’s start date back 15 days, and it remains unclear where the Siena men will play its home games. Originally, D’Argenio said that a minimum number of fans the Saints could have for games at downtown Albany’s Times Union Center was approximately 3,000 for the financial math to work out, but the MAAC’s decision not to allow fans at games through at least Dec. 23 reopened the opportunity to play inside the program’s normal venue since costs would be lower for spectator-less games.
“Now it’s just a matter of us taking a look at it and what’s doable,” said D’Argenio, who said he’d like to have a site determined for his men’s basketball team’s home games no later than mid-October.
Figuring out what’s doable? That appears likely to be a season-long effort for college basketball teams, which are just more than two months away from starting play.
“There are a lot of scenarios that could develop,” Ensor said.
- Dec. 8: at Rider
- Dec. 11: vs. Saint Peter’s
- Dec. 15: at Monmouth
- Dec. 18: vs. Quinnipiac
- Dec. 29: vs. Fairfield
- Jan. 5: at Marist
- Jan. 8: vs. Monmouth
- Jan. 12: at Canisius
- Jan. 15: at Niagara
- Jan. 19: vs. Iona
- Jan. 22: vs. Rider
- Jan. 29: at Saint Peter’s
- Feb. 2: at Manhattan
- Feb. 5: vs. Marist
- Feb. 9: at Fairfield
- Feb. 12: at Iona
- Feb. 16: vs. Manhattan
- Feb. 19: vs. Niagara
- March 2: at Quinnipiac
- March 5: vs. Canisius
- Dec. 9: vs. Niagara
- Dec. 12: vs. Manhattan
- Dec. 16: at Fairfield
- Dec. 19: at Iona
- Dec. 30: vs. Monmouth
- Jan. 2: vs. Canisius
- Jan. 6: at Rider
- Jan. 9: at Marist
- Jan. 16: vs. Saint Peter’s
- Jan. 20: at Niagara
- Jan. 23: at Canisius
- Jan. 27: vs. Quinnipiac
- Feb. 3: vs. Rider
- Feb. 6: at Monmouth
- Feb. 10: vs. Fairfield
- Feb. 13: at Manhattan
- Feb. 17: at Saint Peter’s
- Feb. 20: vs. Marist
- March 3: vs. Iona
- March 6: at Quinnipiac