YOUNGSTOWN — The COVID-19 pandemic closed businesses, led to massive unemployment and wreaked havoc with schools flipping between in-person and online classes. Positive cases amassed quicker than popcorn in a hot, oily pan.
The Youngstown State University men’s basketball team was not immune to the massive airborne spread. Monday, the Penguins’ athletic department announced that all team activities are paused due to a positive COVID-19 test.
The start of the season is delayed. The opener on Nov. 25 and the multi-team event from Nov. 27-29 at the Beeghly Center have been canceled.
As of now, YSU’s opener is Dec. 2 at West Virginia. The Penguins cannot resume activities until Nov. 30.
“As we experience an unprecedented year in college athletics and across the entire country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to keep the health, safety and welfare of our student-athletes and staff first and foremost,” YSU Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Ron Strollo said in a news release.
Coach Jerrod Calhoun cannot comment on COVID-related issues. Strollo is the spokesperson on these matters.
YSU is seeking three other non-conference games before Horizon League play begins Dec. 19-20 at Northern Kentucky.
“Right now, the schedule isn’t complete,” Calhoun said last week. “I’d be lying to you to say it wasn’t a challenge. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but we’re trying really hard to get the schedule complete.”
The NCAA announced earlier this year all winter sport athletes received an extra year of eligibility for the 2021-22 season due to the uncertainty of the season.
“We’re seeing what’s going on around Ohio and the rest of the country with the number of cases. It’s going to be a very, very trying year for us and everybody,” Calhoun said. “I think that’s why the NCAA gave everybody the year back.”
Strollo said schedules are fluid, especially for the first couple weeks of the season.
“It’s going to be constant change and movement,” he said last week. “We’ll do that in the safest way we can do it and still give our kids and opportunity to compete. That’s what this all comes down to in the winter and the spring is these kids have put a lot into this. It’s so much of their mental makeup. They’ve been practicing all fall. It’s good for them to actually go and compete. That’s what we’re trying to do is to go compete, have some fun and not be locked up in their rooms taking online classes all day.”
YSU’s women’s team is scheduled to play Duquense on Nov. 27 and Point Park (Pittsburgh) on Nov. 30 at home. The opener is Nov. 25 against Bluefield State (W. Va.) at the Beeghly Center. The other known game for the YSU women is Dec. 5 against Akron in Youngstown.
The women’s Horizon League opener is Dec. 12-13 at Northern Kentucky. The Horizon League does not allow fans during November and December for league games.
Strollo said YSU has put a request into the state of Ohio to increase the allowance of fans in Beeghly Center. Currently, rules cap the number at 300 for the 6,300-seat capacity of Beeghly Center. Strollo is hoping for 15 percent, which would increase it to 945. That includes the number of coaches, teams, managers as well as seating for families of student-athletes, cheerleaders and pep band. A limited number will be available to the public.
Strollo said there will be a fogger machine to kill germs, clean locker rooms. In public areas, masks and social distancing will be enforced.
Hand sanitizing stations will be available, as they are all over YSU’s campus.
“Before and after games, we’re doing a thorough cleaning,” Strollo said.
This season is in a state of flux, but Barnes said his team, which isn’t under quarantine, knows it can’t control anything going outside of the Penguins’ program.
“What we can control is wearing masks, social distancing, being smart,” Barnes said last week. “I think they’ve also had the players really lean on the program.
“Every day they know what to expect. Coming into practice. How we warm up. How we lift. This is something that is a constant. Everything in the world is in flux, crazy. They know the program, day in, day out, (and) can count on it. They can count on us as coaches. It’s something they can lean on mentally every day and not have to worry about this aspect. They can forget about all the craziness in the world for the 2, 3 hours they’re here.”