Syracuse, N.Y. – Jim Boeheim called his decision to play Friday’s game against Bryant “foolish.”
The Syracuse basketball coach, whose team outlasted the visiting Bulldogs 85-84 in the season-opener at the Carrier Dome, was animated and agitated afterward when he spoke with reporters by Zoom.
The Orange, sent into quarantine following positive Covid-19 tests by Boeheim and one SU player, had practiced once in 12 days before meeting Bryant. SU announced mid-week that the game would be played despite the long basketball layoff.
Boeheim said Friday that medical people determined the Orange could play the game. Nobody, he said, believed players faced potential injury by playing. As for the logic of playing when the entire team had been quarantined with just exercise bikes to maintain cardiovascular conditioning?
Maybe not the best idea.
Boeheim called the choice of playing or potentially postponing “100 percent my fault.” He never, he said, attempted to move the game.
“The medical doctors make (the decision) that they’re healthy to play,” Boeheim said. “I make the decision on whether it’s smart to play the game. When you don’t play for 14 days, it’s not smart.”
The Orange struggled to shoot the ball Friday. They struggled to guard Bryant, which executed a crafty game plan and nearly beat SU on its home court.
Marek Dolezaj described the trouble of timing after more than a week of basketball inactivity. Buddy Boeheim said the Orange men were “stuck in our apartments all day” because of coronavirus protocols.
SU players went on pause Nov. 15. They practiced Thanksgiving afternoon. They played a game a day later. Boeheim said during the Thanksgiving practice, coaches introduced plans on how to attack Bryant’s shifting defenses. Some of his guys, he said, “were dying” from the recent lack of basketball conditioning.
“It was really tough for us. We didn’t practice for 12 days,” Dolezaj said. “We were not together, so it was really tough.”
“(It was) probably just the wind, getting up and down, guarding someone and going back on offense and playing basketball,” Buddy Boeheim said. “I feel like we had a great four months of practice and then getting curbed like that definitely hurt our overall chemistry and getting up and down. Conditioning was a lot better before this. Just trying to get it back now, it’s obvious we still got a lot of work to do trying to figure out how to play together.”
Syracuse’s players were required to quarantine for 14 days, but the university hopes that future positives in the program will be judged differently.
Boeheim talked again Friday about the wearable devices his coaches and players have been wearing. Those devices alert players and staff when they are within six feet of each other; data is then collected to determine the exact time they’ve spent within a six-foot radius. (The CDC defines close contacts as “someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes.”)
Boeheim said SU’s data from its wearable, wristwatch-like devices would offer more accurate contact tracing information. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon agreed.
“The CDC made a suggestion – and I don’t know how we should listen to their suggestions – and the NCAA backed it up that if one guy tests positive, the whole group is out, Tier 1,” Boeheim said (Tier 1: players, coaches, medical people, managers). “I have the chip. I’m not near a player for more than 1 minute and 30 seconds the whole practice. The whole practice. So why if I got it – which I did – would the team not be able to practice? That makes no sense.
“The managers wear masks and gloves and the chips. They’re not near a player for (longer than) two minutes. So if they get it, we’re going to have to sit the whole team down? This makes no sense.”
Boeheim said he’s spoken with doctors who have informed him Covid-19 has not been shown to spread among athletes on the playing fields. The SU player who tested positive, he said, practiced with his teammates for two days before the disease was detected. Nobody else on the team, he said, tested positive.
“We need to figure this out soon because if you’re playing 3-4 games and guys are out 14 days during the season, you’re gonna miss four games or five that will not be made up,” Boeheim said. “And then you’re going to have to come back with one day of practice or two and play Duke or North Carolina? You can’t do that. It’s physically impossible.”
The Syracuse coach said the NCAA and the conferences that govern college basketball need to change the way they determine who needs to quarantine after a positive test in a program.
“We’ve got to do something about this now,” he said, “or this season will be destroyed.”