In mid-October, UM made it official: Griz basketball will be returning after getting cut off in the spring, to the delight of most fans. But is it the right decision for the community?
COVID-19 cases are surging throughout the U.S., and especially here in Montana. Rival Big Sky Conference teams such as Eastern Washington and Portland State had good reason to vote to play on. As two states that feature Big Sky Conference teams, Oregon and Washington have among the lowest states for case rates per 100,000 people in the U.S.
California and Colorado, which also have teams in the Big Sky Conference, are doing worse than their Pacific Northwest neighbors, but seem to have the pandemic relatively under control.
Montana, on the other hand, has the 7th highest number of cases per capita in the nation in the last week, and continues to set record case counts every day. Missoula County also reported 173 new cases in its latest COVID-19 update.
Gallatin County, home of UM’s primary rival, Montana State, has seen 169 new cases in the last week.
UM and Montana State already face the very likely possibility of halting the Big Sky Conference season due to positive tests, but even they aren’t the most concerning.
There are four teams the Griz face from Idaho and Utah, which are ranked 11th and 9th respectively in the nation for COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in US states for the last week.
The head coach of UM men’s basketball, Travis DeCuire, told reporters in October that rather than hoping a halt to play won’t happen, his team will make a plan for when, not if, one happens.
The Centers for Disease Control recently warned that Thanksgiving may be the next occasion for COVID-19 superspreader events, and UM has asked its students to self-quarantine before winter break to help prevent the spread of the virus.
And yet, the Lady Griz will travel to Utah for a game the day before Thanksgiving, sharing a court with athletes from one of the most COVID-19 affected states in the country.
The next scheduled Lady Griz game, after Utah State, is in Missoula against North Dakota, the state with the most COVID-19 cases, per capita, in the nation.
After the game against North Dakota, the Lady Griz will also get a visit from another Utah team, Utah Valley.
All this close contact is a cause for worry, to say the least. Already this semester, most of UM’s athletics teams, including the entire cross country team, have had to be quarantined. The Champion’s Center, UM’s training facility, has also been shut down at least once.
If UM can’t keep its own teams safe, how is it a good idea to bring people from across the West in contact with them?
Despite an initial belief that the virus does not affect young people, more than 400 people in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 24 have died from COVID-19. Young adults should not have to get sick, let alone die, for our entertainment. Athletes’ friends and family shouldn’t have to avoid them while sports go on as usual.
More than 238,000 people have died in the U.S. from the coronavirus. Unless the Big Sky Conference develops an NBA-level bubble plan to temporarily contain this virus, no one should play basketball.
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