| Cincinnati Enquirer
Travis Steele was transparent in the weeks and days leading up to the college basketball season about the possibility of COVID-19 affecting his team in his third season as Xavier University’s men’s basketball coach.
During a November press conference ahead of his team’s season-opener, Steele told reporters: “We’ve been shut down once before already here at Xavier. It shows how quickly it can be taken from you. Our guys know what’s at stake, they know how fragile this is. I think our guys have been pretty responsible, but again, does that mean we’re gonna go unscathed through all of this? No. We’re probably going to get an interruption at some point, but we have to focus on the things we can control and that’s our attitude and our effort every single day.”
Steele’s statement came full circle on Friday when Xavier announced it has paused all men’s basketball team activities “after a positive COVID-19 test result by a Tier 1 member of the program,” which forced the postponement of the Musketeers’ first two scheduled Big East Conference games (Dec. 12 at Providence; Dec. 15 vs. Seton Hall).
Tier 1 is a group designation that includes student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, medical staff, or equipment staff.
Tier 1 consists of roughly 30 individuals at Xavier.
The Enquirer confirmed through sources that the positive test came from a Xavier player, and contact tracing revealed that nearly all of Xavier’s Tier 1 individuals were deemed close contacts, which isn’t all that surprising considering the close environment college basketball games are played in.
Xavier was already in a relatively regular COVID testing pattern and the coming days will determine, through daily testing, whether it’s a single case or if the Musketeers are looking at multiple cases.
With Ohio recently adopting the adjusted guidelines on quarantine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it means that everyone in Xavier’s program that was deemed a close contact needs to quarantine for at least seven days if they test negative for the coronavirus.
For the player who tested positive, it’s longer. The player who tested positive has to quarantine for at least 10 days and then they have to enter a return-to-play program that monitors heart activity and any lingering side effects that may have been detected, making it more like a 17-day moratorium for that player, unless that player doesn’t exhibit any symptoms, then it could be on the shorter side of that benchmark.
This puts Xavier in a wait-and-see situation right now. If it remains only one positive test, the Musketeers have a good chance of returning to team activities at the end of next week, albeit without the player who tested positive.
Xavier’s first two Big East games are in the process of being rescheduled, but it’s fair to wonder about the status of Xavier’s three remaining games on the calendar before Christmas – Dec. 18 at DePaul, Dec. 20 vs. Marquette and Dec. 23 at Creighton.
Xavier athletic director Greg Christopher told The Enquirer, “Those three games are still in the wait-and-see mode. We’ve been in conversation with the league office and those respective schools and hope to make a decision on DePaul early next week.”
With seven games under its belt, Xavier’s already more than halfway to 13 games – the minimum requirement to qualify for the NCAA Tournament – so Xavier, which as of Saturday morning remains the only Division I team in the country with seven wins, is not in a place where it needs to panic.
But, it’s also fair to wonder if the Big East is headed to a more-controlled bubble setting. Xavier’s the fourth Big East team since the season started to have to pause because of the coronavirus. Butler’s only played one game and the Bulldogs are set to end their pause in the coming days, while DePaul has yet to play a game and Connecticut’s only played three games. Both DePaul and UConn remain paused at the moment.
Earlier this week, Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman told The Hartford Courant that the conference’s plan moving forward includes the “serious exploration” of one or multiple controlled-environment sites, a regionalized travel model and even a pause of competition.
The Big East’s athletic directors meet on a weekly basis and the model-of-play plan going forward is an ongoing topic of conversation.
“This is what we expected and we’re managing through it as best we can,” said Christopher. “I saw a statistic recently that college football, as of last week, had gotten in about 81% of its games this season, and college basketball, at least through the first two to three weeks of the season, is right at 80% as well.
“We were prepared for this, we expected this and we’re managing it in a similar fashion as everyone else across the country, this just happens to be our turn.”
During his pre-game press conference the day before Xavier hosted Oklahoma, Steele was asked about seeing games canceled or postponed, and how fortunate he feels that his team’s been able to play out its non-conference schedule.
“My brother’s the head coach at the University of Akron and they haven’t even played a game,” said Steele. “I think there’s about 20 schools in the country, Division I-wise, that haven’t even played a game yet. So we’re very fortunate. Our university has done a great job with all the protocols, our athletic department as well, and listen, even if you do a great job, you can still get it. I’ve said it before, you can get it anywhere, anytime.
“We just gotta be as careful as we possibly can. Our young men are making a lot of sacrifices because we want to play. I told our guys after the (Crosstown) Shootout game, ‘I love this, I love our team, I love the guys in our locker room, but I want to keep playing. I want to stay on the floor.'”