On Wednesday evening, the Marquette athletic department announced that both men’s and women’s basketball would be halting all team activities for 14 days after COVID-19 testing revealed one positive test within each program.
.@MarquetteU #mubb and #muwbb pause team activities for 14 days after 2-of-45 COVID-19 tests come back positive, Student-athletes & Tier 1 staff will quarantine and may return to practice Nov. 4. RELEASE: https://t.co/6HEkdEouri pic.twitter.com/pZE7diDXXK— Marquette WBB (@MarquetteWBB) October 21, 2020
.@MarquetteU #mubb and #muwbb pause team activities for 14 days after 2-of-45 COVID-19 tests come back positive, Student-athletes & Tier 1 staff will quarantine and may return to practice Nov. 4. RELEASE: https://t.co/XLBuaQj8et pic.twitter.com/sn82vYbXYO— Marquette Basketball (@MarquetteMBB) October 21, 2020
Here’s the full explanation of what transpired from the official Marquette press release:
The most recent round of testing, conducted on Oct. 19 in accordance with NCAA guidelines, produced two positive results in a total of 45 tests of men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes and NCAA-defined Tier 1 team personnel. All individuals within Tier 1 will quarantine for 14 days.
Because I know you’re wondering right now, here’s the definition on Tier 1 personnel according to the NCAA:
This is the highest exposure tier and consists of individuals for whom physical distancing and face coverings are not possible or effective during athletic training or competition. Examples of relevant individuals include student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and physical therapists, medical staff, equipment staff and officials.
With that in mind, it’s worth noting that 45 tests within both basketball teams might not be that many tests. The combined total on merely players and coaches listed on the two roster pages is 44. That’s not counting the trainers, therapists, doctors, managers, or just athletic department staff that would qualify for testing here. I don’t know exactly who qualifies as Tier 1, so that list might actually be pretty big. If it’s not, then 45 tests would actually cover almost the entirety of the two basketball rosters.
I want to go ahead and point at another paragraph in the release, because it has some fascinating information.
Since August 28, Marquette Athletics has conducted 809 tests of student-athletes and staff, with a total of just eight positive cases. Contact tracing as a result of testing has led to the pause of team activities in a number of programs this fall.
I might be just slow and lazy, but I don’t remember Marquette announcing the pausing of team activities for any other programs since August 28th. To be fair to everyone involved, none of those pauses involved teams that were in the middle of in-season practices the way that men’s and women’s basketball are at this point. I feel like making announcements of men’s lacrosse or track and field or whatever team it was having to pause activities could have done some general public good to get the message across as to the impact that the coronavirus pandemic was causing at Marquette, but I’m just a guy with a keyboard, not a PR professional.
Relative to the athletic department having a positivity rate of just 0.99% in their 809 tests since the fall semester started up, I would like to point you to the Marquette COVID-19 dashboard. The university is making all of their testing information available to the general public with daily updates. The last day with updated numbers is October 20th as I type this on the morning of the 22nd, but that’s not bad work by MU, just a lag in tests returning. Marquette has conducted 2,587 tests and returned 266 positive results. That’s a positivity rate of 10.3%.
The good news is that athletics is well below that number for the general university population. The other good news is that athletics is doing much more surveillance testing than the university is doing on the general student population. I have not seen any information from Marquette indicating that they’re doing randomized testing of students just to check on everyone’s welfare other than the testing done when Schroeder Hall and Cobeen Hall were put into a two week quarantine earlier this semester. It seems possible that the 10.3% rate is slightly elevated by the fact that MU appears to only be testing people that have a reason to be tested either because of symptoms or contact with a person who has already tested positive.
The bad news is a long term bad news situation. Going purely by math, the NCAA basketball regular season is supposed to be 25 (give or take based on multi-team event participation) games between November 25th, 2020, and March 13, 2021, which is the Saturday before Selection Sunday, at least for now. That’s 15 weeks, 14 if there’s going to be a conference tournament. Teams will essentially need to average two games per week in order to get a full schedule in. If a positive test is going to cause a 14 day halt once the season starts, that’s four games that will go up in smoke for that team.
The NCAA has said that teams will need to complete 13 games in order to be national championship tournament eligible. A halt due to a positive test will have the potential to drop a team from 25 games scheduled to just 21. What if that happens to Marquette between December and March, and then let’s say Villanova has to shut down for two weeks when MU has them scheduled in that window. Now that’s 20 games. What if Marquette doesn’t actually get five non-conference games scheduled on top of the planned 20 game Big East schedule? Now that’s 19 or 18.
You can see how this could end up dragging closer and closer to 13 pretty quickly.
All of this is without even getting into the discussion of whether or not it’s even ethically or morally responsible to try and play amateur sports just to cash television paychecks during a global pandemic.
The 14 day quarantine for the men’s and women’s basketball programs will end on November 4th. The NCAA says that the season can start three weeks after that, on November 25th. We still don’t know when Marquette’s teams will actually play their first games of the season, as we’re five weeks away and there has not been a schedule announcement. Purely in terms of basketball preparations, I would presume that the shutdown will affect Steve Wojciechowski’s team more than Megan Duffy’s team. The men’s team has five players who have been on the court for the Golden Eagles in the past, one redshirt freshman, and four newcomers. The women’s team returns eight women who played together a year ago along with a transfer redshirt who sat out a year ago and four freshmen. That seems to lend itself to the thought that Duffy’s team knows who they are and what to expect from each other much more than Wojciechowski’s team at this point of the practice calendar.
And now, much like the teams themselves, we wait to see what happens next.