LOUDONVILLE — With less than two weeks to go until its first scheduled game of the 2020-21 men’s basketball season, Siena needed Friday to halt in-person team activities.
The Saints joined a growing number of MAAC programs needing to pause team activities, as two positive COVID-19 test results were found among Siena’s “Tier 1 personnel,” a group that consists of coaches, players, and some team managers and staff members. Albany County health officials still need to determine when the Siena program members’ 14-day quarantine period technically started, but whether that starting point is Wednesday, Thursday or Friday — or some combination of them for Siena’s various Tier 1 members — the Saints are highly unlikely to play, at the very least, their Nov. 26 opener against UMass at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
The Saints are also scheduled to play Nov. 28 and Nov. 30 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said early Friday afternoon that the Saints haven’t made any final decisions regarding making further changes to a schedule that has already been remodeled several times.
“But I think you can look at the calendar and do the math,” said D’Argenio, who confirmed Friday’s announcement did not affect the school’s women’s basketball program.
Siena did not publicly identify the two men’s basketball program individuals who tested positive. Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said “you can’t know how someone got it,” but that he remained confident his program’s members had followed safety protocols.
“There’s no blame being placed on anyone,” Maciariello said. “It’s just unfortunate.”
The number of coronavirus cases is spiking throughout New York and the nation. Siena’s announcement regarding its men’s program came a day after the United States set a new single-day record for new positive cases, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
Earlier this week, all in-person UAlbany athletic activities were halted as part of the university’s shift to remote learning for the rest of the fall semester following a “significant spike” in COVID-19 cases. Prior to that, the UAlbany men’s basketball team had already not been practicing for several days because of a coronavirus-related pause.
It remains unclear when UAlbany’s basketball teams will be able to resume practicing, athletic director Mark Benson confirmed Friday.
The MAAC has not released its revised slate of games since the conference announced last week it was moving to a format that will see teams play on Fridays and Saturdays at the same site for two games. MAAC play is scheduled to start Dec. 11-12, and D’Argenio said he does not expect the league to, again, make any “wholesale changes” to a format that already is expected to include flexibility measures to allow for in-season changes.
MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor confirmed that the league will move forward with its revised scheduling plan, and that the conference’s new-look schedule will be unveiled Monday morning. Ensor also said he still expects some MAAC teams to try to play non-conference games.
“As far as plans for the non-conference season, we’re just moving ahead,” Ensor said. “Teams that can play, can play. Those that can’t will have to wait.”
During a MAAC conference call Monday with reporters during which Ensor repeatedly stated the “goal” should be for MAAC teams to meet the 13-game minimum needed to qualify for potential NCAA tournament inclusion, coaches of four of the league’s men’s basketball programs — Rider, Marist, Niagara and Quinnipiac — said their teams were not practicing at that time. Since Monday, Canisius, Iona and Siena have announced pauses of their own.
“It’s just a reminder to our guys that it could happen to us any second,” Maciariello said Monday of knowing several MAAC rivals had needed to shut down.
As it turned out, “any second” for Siena arrived several days later. The two Siena men’s basketball individuals who tested positive need to isolate for 10 days, while the rest of the Saints’ Tier 1 individuals will need to quarantine for 14 days since their last contact with the two infected people. Before being allowed to return to team activities, the two people with positive tests will need to be cleared by the team’s medical official and pass additional tests.
Siena announced its pause less than 24 hours after Canisius men’s basketball head coach Reggie Witherspoon announced via a social-media post that he had tested positive for coronavirus in October, but had not experienced any symptoms.
“During this entire pandemic,” Witherspoon’s statement, in part, reads, “I have been overly cautious and followed all professional medical recommendations, but I still tested positive.”
Maciariello said “you hope that you’re doing everything you can,” but knows that doesn’t guarantee a person won’t become infected.
“You take all the precautions,” Maciariello said, “and you still get it.”
This report will be updated.