Gonzaga staying "as vigilant as possible” as COVID-19 numbers escalate nationwide

<p><p>The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament, interfered with schedules and fan attendance last season and an Omicron-led recurrence is currently shelving games across the country.</p></p><p><p>With conference play about to begin in earnest, there’s growing concern the surge in COVID numbers could lead to a bumpy ride for the rest of the season.</p></p><p><p>Gonzaga had one game scrapped earlier this month due to COVID issues in Washington’s program. Thus far, the only other cancellation involving a WCC squad was Monday’s San Diego-Long Beach State game due to COVID concerns in the LBSU program.</p></p><p><p>“I think I counted nine games this morning that have been canceled,” said Gonzaga athletic director Chris Standiford, shortly before the Zags’ 69-55 win over Texas Tech on Saturday in Phoenix. “It’s something we’re being as vigilant as possible on, obviously protocols within the team.</p></p><p><p>“We continue to communicate with our fans and try to implore them to follow the policy when they’re in the building. It’s important to have the support of our fans at the games and do everything we can to keep that environment as safe as possible.”</p></p><p><p>Washington canceled or postponed three games during its recent two-week pause. Idaho’s game against UC Riverside on Wednesday was canceled due to COVID concerns in the Highlanders’ program.</p></p><p><p>As of Wednesday morning, approximately 40 teams, none in the WCC, were on COVID pauses. The Pac-12, Big West, Big 12 and ACC have restructured policies to avoid forfeits – Washington’s forfeit against UCLA was erased and the game will be a no-contest if it isn’t rescheduled – while a few other conferences reaffirmed forfeit rules. Numerous conferences are discussing their stance on the issue.</p></p><p><p>This is somewhat familiar territory for Gonzaga, the WCC and college basketball. The Zags had five nonconference games canceled/postponed last December due to COVID issues in the program and three WCC games canceled/postponed in response to opponents’ COVID protocols. The WCC was forced to revamp portions of its schedule over the Christmas holiday when several teams went on COVID pauses.</p></p><p><p>“It’s kind of the inverse in a sense that last year we were coming from a super restrictive environment into being able to play again, and now we’re going the other direction,” Standiford said. “It’s a little bit of a mind-bender in terms of anticipating what’s coming, but obviously the health and welfare of everybody involved is our top priority.”</p></p><p><p>The WCC’s current policy is teams need at least eight players, regardless of scholarship or walk-on status, to start a game. If they choose not to play with eight or more players, it’s recorded as a forfeit. Teams can choose to play with less than eight.</p></p><p><p>The NHL has postponed 50 games and paused team activities until at least Monday. The NFL pushed back three Week 15 games to Monday and Tuesday. Nine NBA games have been postponed, but commissioner Adam Silver stated the league has no plans to pause the season.</p></p><p><p>Standiford said Gonzaga follows the NCAA’s COVID protocols that fully vaccinated individuals don’t require testing. He added that the school continues to work with team doctors, the Spokane Regional Health District and state of Washington to make sure the program is “following the best practices.”</p></p><p><p>NCAA policy calls for a 10-day quarantine for vaccinated/boosted that test positive, but there is optimism the CDC will adjust those guidelines soon, which would prompt the NCAA to do the same, CBSsports.com’s Matt Norlander reported Wednesday.</p></p><p><p>“There is (a concern level) and obviously (with) sending our guys out on the road again (for holiday break),” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who said recently every Zag has been fully vaccinated. “I think all the schools and all the sports also need to adapt. We don’t need to have the same policies we had pre-vaccination. We need to make sure everybody’s on the same page with that.”</p></p><p><p>After Washington canceled the Dec. 12 game with Gonzaga, Few said the Zags would attempt to add another game, possibly during one of the team’s two one-game weeks in conference. The rising COVID numbers could make that harder to accomplish if the WCC schedule begins to experience cancellations/postponements.</p></p><p><p>“With the current situation, there’s going to be a lot of protection around the WCC dates to try to make sure the conference schedule is honored,” Standiford said.</p></p><p><p>The return of fans this season has been “unbelievable,” Standiford said. “To see our students in the building and the energy, the excitement and the joy that brings to everybody, we’re going to do everything within our control to make sure that persists.”</p></p>