Optics of college basketball different

My wife looked at me, put up one hand, telling me she didn’t believe what she had just seen.

I watched a clip from CBS’ Sunday Morning show myself, then shared it with my bride.

George Clooney was trending on Twitter for some hair-raising reason, stunning for most of the fans of the longtime Hollywood actor.

Conversation between CBS correspondent Tracy Smith and Clooney on the network’s Sunday Morning show shifted from his post-apocalyptic thriller “The Midnight Sky,” toward the title of the interview called “Down to Earth.”

Smith queried Clooney if he cuts his own hair, something more of us are doing during the rampant COVID-19 pandemic. He admitted he’s done so for more than two decades, not a subsequent result of the fast-moving, airborne virus. More shocking was another revelation. Clooney uses a Flowbee, an electrically-powered vacuum cleaner attachment made for cutting hair that was invented in the late 1980s.

That’s so 2020, but so are the near empty college basketball arenas where cardboard cutouts of fans and celebrities — one might be Clooney — outnumber the live bodies in the socially-distanced arena.

Echoes reverberate through the barren arenas like a small, compressed rubber bouncy ball, one that would spiral out of a machine. Place some loose change in a slot between the bubble gum and temporary tattoos, twist the metal knob and see hours of happiness plop in your awaiting hand.

The same fervor cannot be shared by college basketball fans around the country. Differences are noticeable: masks are worn; chairs in the bench area are in two rows, not placed near one another.

The spacing seems more like something you would see if a portrait photographer placed a team posing for a team snapshot through a wide-angle lens.

Play on the floor seems the same with the dribble-drives penetrating a stringent man-to-man or compressed zone defense.

Other optics around the arena look different. Fans are wondering if they can be among the selected few permitted in the building under recommendations by local health departments, as more sanitation procedures are followed by those in attendance.

Youngstown State University men’s and women’s basketball teams are in quarantine because of positive COVID-19 cases for both teams.

No home non-conference games are scheduled for either team this calendar year. The YSU women start the season Dec. 12-13 at Northern Kentucky University, while the men currently begin their campaign Dec. 19-20 at NKU. Horizon League games are back-to-back contests at the same site this season due to safety measures to protect programs if there is an outbreak with either team.

If there is, the spread is limited to those two programs. Horizon League teams, in normal seasons, would play or host two to three games in a week. Nothing is normal in 2020.

YSU men’s coach Jerrod Calhoun said he’s hoping to secure a non-conference home game prior to Dec. 19, while YSU women’s coach John Barnes said his team’s first game is Dec. 12 at NKU.

I’m crossing my fingers for a game at Beeghly Center this calendar year. It’s been 270 days since I’ve covered a college basketball game, the last one being a March 5 Horizon League quarterfinal in Chicago, when YSU’s season ended to UIC.

Hopefully, that drought ends sooner than later for the sake of the teams and fans so we can get back to some normalcy in this topsy-turvy year of 2020.


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