Tucked away just 12 miles west of Philadelphia is perhaps one of the most scenic campuses in the country in Villanova University. We sat down with Villanova men's basketball coach Jay Wright to discuss a litany of topics no one expected to address when the season began. Instead of speaking with the NCAA Coach of the Decade about another possible deep run into March, we discussed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the close-knit community of Villanova and its effect beyond the cancellation of the greatest tournament in the world.
Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf ordered a self-enforced statewide shutdown on March 16 to help combat the spread of COVID-19. One week later, on March 23, Wolf ordered the immediate shutdown of all non “life-sustaining” businesses and issued a stay-at-home order for several counties. Schools are shut down until at least April 6.
How are Wright and Villanova's students adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic?
“It is wild times," Wright said. "The Pennsylvania and Philadelphia area has been hit pretty hard. We are all locked down here. As a matter of fact, today the governor stated that we now have an eight o'clock curfew in the five towns around Philadelphia.
"We’re locked up here and almost all of our players are at home. We have a few local players, but we're trying to convince them that it’s actually a good time for rest after a long season. Last week they were buying into that advice, but this week they are trying to get back into the gyms.”
As weird as it feels for college basketball to be resting in March, there is little alternative.
"Our campus is completely shut down," Wright said. "As a matter of fact, just today the president of our university (Father Peter Donohue) announced that we will complete the school year with online classes. No one will be allowed back on campus and graduation has been canceled.
"This was actually the 100th year of Villanova basketball. We had a big gala scheduled for mid-April to celebrate and an extravagant event had been planned but that's now been canceled."
The 2019-20 college basketball season is over. Attention now turns to the eventual return of the sport and how it affects players' eligibility.
The NCAA’s rumored plan to add an additional year of eligibility for athletes who lost parts of their playing careers due to the coronavirus pandemic has become a hotly-contested subject. It goes without saying that there are far more important pressing issues facing world leaders as they try to find a cure for the coronavirus, but how the NCAA handles this unprecedented situation will have far-reaching effects on seasons beyond the ones that were lost.
Athletes who missed out on postseason tournaments or had entire seasons wiped out entirely, and many fans, have urged the NCAA to add a fifth year of eligibility. However, although the concept on paper sounds remarkably fair to these athletes, Wright points out that there would be tremendous hurdles facing basketball programs that need to be sorted out by the NCAA.
"I think the offering of a fifth year to the spring sport athletes should almost be a given," Wright said. "I don't know how they're going to implement that. With incoming freshmen, I am not sure how they would deal with the scholarship issues and those limitations.
"In terms of the basketball season, I think we'd all like to get our guys back, but as you know, most teams were already finished with their season. They don't get to play in the NCAA Tournament, which is really sad for a lot of our guys. Fortunately for us, most of our guys will be coming back next season. Tim Saunders, our only senior, will miss out on it this year and you really feel for him. However, if you look at the overall impact (the fifth year) would have on incoming players, it would be a lot to take on."
Wright summed up his point succinctly.
"I think we might be best served by just biting the bullet and just counting this as a complete year and moving on from here, as much I hate to say that for the seniors.”
Villanova proclaims it attracts and forges world changers—people who ignite positive change everywhere life takes them. According to the school website, a “Villanovan” is an "individual who thinks critically, acts compassionately and succeeds while serving others."
In this time of crisis, many athletes around the country are looking to coaches, teachers, doctors and world leaders for guidance. Wright seemingly has the Villanova athletic community in great hands. Wright, who has earned respect that extends way beyond Lancaster Avenue, is part of a critical group of collegiate coaches that are not only compassionately serving the needs of current players, but also have a pivotal role of positively influencing how athletes around the country respond when the game we all love returns.
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