With season nearing, questions swirl as four Big Sky basketball teams have games canceled

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Griz vs. Northern Arizona 24 (copy)

Montana’s Kyle Owens, right, keeps the ball away from Northern Arizona’s Nik Mains (15) during a game last season. Four Big Sky teams, including NAU, had games canceled on Monday.

MISSOULA — The Big Sky Conference is already experiencing numerous hitches in its non-conference schedule.

On Monday, Northern Arizona and Eastern Washington announced their season openers against Arizona and Oregon had been canceled. Neither school said when the games would be rescheduled. Early Monday evening, Southern Utah also announced a women’s basketball contest against Utah had been canceled due to a positive test within the Utes program.

Montana Tech women’s basketball also apparently has cases within its program, as the Idaho State women’s basketball team announced a Nov. 28 its game against the Frontier Conference school is canceled and would not be made up.

With the season due to start Wednesday for NCAA Division I programs, some teams do not even have a plan as far as what they would do if they were already traveling and a player tested positive for the virus.

On a Nov. 18 conference call with local media, UM head coach Travis DeCuire was asked about that and responded with a somewhat shocking revelation in regards to what to do if a player tests positive while on the road.

“Look, I’ve called 30 head coaches and asked all of them what they would do and what their protocol is,” DeCuire said. “Of those 30, five have a plan. Most are waiting on conferences, administration and tell us what the deal is.”

DeCuire did say UM has some protocols in place and that much of it would come down to what the county’s health department in whatever place the player was confirmed positive says to do. 

One of those protocols seems to hinge on finding rental car agencies willing to rent a vehicle with the purpose of transporting a COVID-19 positive player or staff member. Obviously a person with the virus should not be flying, making driving back one of few options.

“That’s what a lot of coaches are doing right now,” DeCuire said.

NAU said in a statement to the Arizona Daily Sun that the season opener against the Wildcats was postponed due to “an an isolated COVID-19 incident within the Lumberjack men’s basketball program.” According to Daily Sun reporter Lance Hartzler, NAU has refrained from releasing specific coronavirus case numbers during the pandemic.

Late Monday afternoon, EWU released a statement that its game against Oregon is postponed due to two positive tests within the men’s basketball program. Eastern’s next game, Washington State, is expected to still be played Nov. 28, the statement said.

“The health and well-being of our student-athletes is always our primary concern,” EWU men’s coach Shantay Legans said in the release. “We rely on the school and county health experts to guide us through these unprecedented times. We look forward to re-scheduling this game as it is always fun to play the top teams in our region.”

Both games are guaranteed payout games, that would have netted the two Big Sky schools a sum of money. It is not clear how much those games were worth.

Non-conference games were always going to be a risk, especially now as airports are busy due to Thanksgiving travel. While the Monday flurry of games were canceled out of caution relatively well ahead of scheduled tipoffs, the next logical question has to be what happens if a positive test comes back in the hours before a game.

Montana might be in a better place than some.

“So for us, we’ve got some people that have already been positive, that wouldn’t be at risk in terms of COVID, traveling with a positive,” DeCuire said. ‘We’re in a situation where we probably have fewer potential positives than a lot of teams in the country.

“So we’ve got some things mapped out that we’re working on.”

It is possible to get the virus twice, per a webpage by the Center for Disease Control called “When You Can be Around Others After You Had or Likely Had COVID-19.”

Cases of reinfection of COVID-19 have been reported but are rare. In general, reinfection means a person was infected (got sick) once, recovered, and then later became infected again. Based on what we know from similar viruses, some reinfections are expected,” says the CDC’s website.

The Montana men’s basketball team is set to open its season in Los Angeles against USC on Nov. 28. The Montana women’s basketball team is set to play at Utah State on Nov. 25.

Both games, for now, are scheduled to be played.

Jordan Hansen covers a bunch of stuff for the Missoulian and 406 Sports. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com