[Vandal] In COVID Era, Sports Aren't Escaping Realities

robiegruss at aol.com robiegruss at aol.com
Thu Mar 11 08:54:56 PST 2021

>From The Lewiston TribuneLewiston, IdahoThursday, March 11, 2021
In COVID Era, Sports Aren't Escaping Realities
By Colton Clark
We can go ahead and assume what we’d already feared was the case Saturday afternoon.
The Kibbie Dome’s big screen presented a quite unexpected set of Vandal starters — nine of the regulars absent, freshmen everywhere on the offensive line and in the secondary, no mainstay tight end ... even the punter was gone.
Anyone paying attention and vaguely familiar with Idaho’s football roster probably was reminded of that one nasty thing that’s been really infamous worldwide for more than a year.
Social media was unanimous: It’s gotta be the protocol, or the contact tracing, or whatever.
It was at first just a humble theory, of course. In upholding their keep-it-under-wraps style, the Vandals don’t reveal details on their missing players. It protects the young men and, as a bonus, throws off upcoming opponents.
After depleted Idaho’s 27-17 loss to UC Davis, coach Paul Petrino provided the number of absentees, but wouldn’t touch the reasoning.
He said he was legally obligated not to tell. Follow those bread crumbs, and we can infer Petrino was referencing a legit federal law that prohibits coaches from discussing student-athlete health issues.
The eighth-year coach hadn’t played that card before.
Makes you think. The coronavirus — *gasps* — falls under those HIPAA guidelines, although the disease hasn’t often gotten much of a hush-hush treatment in the sports world as of late.
It’s no longer taboo (or frowned upon) for programs to have COVID-19 complications. At the 12-month mark of its reign, the ’rona has bled thoroughly into life’s aspects, our pastimes included.
This virus has a say in everything, no matter how sick we all are of talking about it (and trust me, there’s nothing I dislike writing more than “coronavirus” at this point).
After a sports-less summer, athletics began to return because the powers that be felt a responsibility to bring them back. Financial matters were also a concern.
Now they trudge through unending postponements and further cancellations. And as was exhibited Saturday, the advantage/momentum in contests can be swung by COVID’s whims too.
Programs/franchises — even high schools sometimes — started admitting straight up that they were short-handed by the coronavirus’ doing.
Idaho fell somewhat in line Monday, when it was forced to postpone its coming Big Sky game with Northern Arizona, crediting “COVID protocols within the Vandals’ program.”
The schools and the conference will look to reschedule. If all works out, the game probably would be played either March 20 or April 17. Idaho and NAU each have open dates on those days.
While it’s not “official” why nine Idaho standouts were unavailable, we can deduce without a shred of doubt. Another bunch of Vandals must have entered Idaho’s protocol after facing the Aggies.
On that note, the Davis, California Enterprise reported Tuesday that three UC Davis players are “being monitored for COVID-19 symptoms after coming in contact during Saturday’s game with a player from Idaho who later tested positive for the coronavirus.”
According to the story, “at least four more Vandals who did participate in the game are now presumably COVID-positive.” The Enterprise learned these details from interim UC Davis athletic director Rocko DeLuca, who’s quoted throughout the article.
Vandals/Lumberjacks is the 14th Football Championship Subdivision spring-season game to be called off via corona in the past three weeks alone. So no, despite the FCS/Big Sky’s pushing back of football to mitigate potential troubles, the sailing has not been smooth.
The argument has been made that asterisks should be placed in the record books next to sports seasons between mid-2020 and now because of all that’s missing on team rosters and in the stands; the condensed schedules; the prevalence of thrown-together games and the free year of eligibility afforded to collegiate athletes.
Yet no matter how phony or scrimmage-like this season may feel, the stakes remain. The churn-out of league/national trophies has continued. After all, championships during the COVID era so far have largely pitted the best against the best.
Sports have adapted to an extent, but not without being deeply affected.
The Vandals have played twice in this six-game season that is missing five opted-out Big Sky teams, and a few dozen others from around the classification. Petrino acknowledged during spring camp that two Idaho players elected to sit out, one of them being Montana grad transfer cornerback Dareon Nash, according to a source.
In Idaho’s Week 1 defeat of Eastern Washington, the Eagles didn’t have their head coach. Aaron Best tested positive just days before, and a handful of Eastern standouts were absent for undisclosed reasons.
The Vandals’ depth chart appeared relatively complete, with all but a couple of expected contributors in action.
Fundamental changes seem to happen overnight these days. Just like that, Idaho was going into Week 2 with a major disadvantage in depth. Then, Idaho wasn’t going into Week 3 at all.
Here’s to wishing the Vandals a healthy return.
Most probably would agree that Idaho/EWU and Idaho/Davis don’t turn out how they did if it weren’t for a pandemic altering the teams’ makeups.
Saturday’s game was a promising look at the future of Idaho’s roster, at the least. To say those were the 2021 Vandals would be selling it way short, but in postgame talks, they refused to use their limited numbers as an excuse.
There’s a certain pride in play Idaho coaches have spoken of, and the players have reiterated their desire to return to the field after too long a layoff. As offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich noted: “If you’re putting a ball down, and we’re keeping score, we’re going to try to win.”
It’s a goal that trends toward unachievable when simply getting on the field proves difficult.
So do we view it as a throwaway season, intended predominantly for fine-tuning? Or has toiling through the challenges brought on by a pandemic — adjusting without a batch of starters, or without a coach — just become an accepted part of today’s sports world?
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