My Two Cents: With Basketball Season Opener in Jeopardy, Buckle Up For a Year of Uncertainty

Tennessee Tech coach John Pelphrey won't make the trip to Bloomington for the basketball season opener after testing positive for COVID-19, and two more days of testing will have to be cleared before the game can be played.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — COVID-19 has already wrecked one basketball season, and now it's taking a bite out of another one. Welcome to our new normal.

Our new damn, friggin' *?!@@??!! normal.

Forgive me for the venting, but here we go again. Not finishing the Big Ten Tournament last March and then being denied a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament was really hard. And now, here we are eight months later, starving for Indiana basketball again.

And on Day 1, we have to worry about the basketball gods taking our plate away before we even take the first bite.

Indiana's season opener against Tennessee Tech at Simon Skodjt Assembly Hall is in jeopardy right now because Tech coach John Pelphrey tested positive for COVID on Monday night and will not be able to make the trip.

The testing, taking place on the Golden Eagles' Cookeville, Tenn., campus and being paid for by the Big Ten, will resume again on Tuesday before the rest of the team leaves for Indiana, and another round will take place on Wednesday in Bloomington the morning of the game.

Indiana officials said late Monday night that Pelphrey's situation doesn't affect the status of the game, and assistant coach Marcus King will coach the team. Pelphrey is a name most Indiana fans know. He played at Kentucky in the early 1990s, and has been a head coach at South Alabama and Arkansas along with being a long-time assistant at Florida. This is the start of his second season at Tennessee Tech, and it's starting with him in isolation.

Tennessee Tech can start the season without its head coach, but any positive tests among the players on either Tuesday or Wednesday surely will cause a problem. Any positive tests will likely force the game to be canceled. 

For full disclosure, all Indiana players and staff are tested every day as well. No positive results have been reported.

The start to the college basketball season was already pushed back two weeks because of the pandemic. The Nov. 10 debut got kicked down the road and college basketball teams around the country were in full re-do mode in trying to set up a nonconference schedule, which in Indiana's case, meant just seven games.

Five of those were already spoken for, the three games next week in the Maui Invitational that's been relocated to scenic Asheville, N.C., the Big Ten/ACC Challenge game on Dec. 9 with Florida State in Tallahassee and the Crossroads Classic game in Indianapolis against Butler on Dec. 19. 

That left only two spots to fill for home games, and Tennessee Tech was signed just a few weeks ago and North Alabama, a team the Hoosiers beat a year ago, will be in Bloomington on Dec. 13.

Maybe. Maybe, to all of it.

Indiana has to tread very lightly right now because the program simply can't risk any positive tests of their own. The Hoosiers, they practice, go to class online and stay at home in their respective apartments, intentionally staying away from all the hustle and bustle of their beautiful college campus.

They're doing that, much like their Indiana football counterparts, because they want to play. Practice, test daily, isolate and play — that's our 2020 in college athletics.

Right now, there are 35 college basketball programs that are on pause because of positive COVID tests, about 12 percent of all programs in the country. There are 19 season-opening games for Wednesday night that have already been been canceled or postponed.

It's a problem, and it's not going away.

Hopefully the tests on all those Tennessee Tech players come back negative on Tuesday and then again on Wednesday, and we can have an 8 p.m. ET tipoff to the season on Wednesday night. We want basketball so bad, all of us.

We'll probably have to sweat it out until then, though. 

So strap up, and get used to this. This 27-game regular season schedule might be in question most every night. 


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