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UConn WBB Weekly: Huskies delay return to action

Football and men’s basketball have returned or are returning to campus soon. Geno’s squad is taking its time.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Welcome to the Weekly Roundup, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.

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From The UConn Blog:

Bookmark our women’s basketball page to keep up with all our coverage of UConn women’s basketball.

Last week’s Weekly:

Elsewhere:

Huskies in play for 2021 forward

On the recruiting front, UConn is one of five finalists for 2021 forward Okikiola “Kiki” Iriafen. The Huskies were named in her top five along with Baylor, Notre Dame, Stanford and UCLA. Iriafen is a 6-foot-2 forward rated as the No. 9 player in her class and the No. 4 forward by ESPN.

UConn has two scholarships remaining for the 2021-22 season, with one of those presumably held open for Azzi Fudd, the top prospect in 2021. The Huskies already have three prospects verbally committed in the class: Amari DeBerry (No. 5), Saylor Poffenbarger (No. 17) and Caroline Ducharme (No. 37).

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It’s probably safe to say Crystal Dangerfield is excited about re-joining Napheesa Collier on the Minnesota Lynx, if her t-shirt is any indication.

Maya Moore has (deservedly) been getting a lot of attention this week for her decision to step away from basketball for a higher calling, especially with other athletes like Kyrie Irving and Renee Montgomery now considering or even deciding to take time off. One place Moore was honored was in the Philippines:

UConn women’s basketball’s Twitter account did a great job of highlighting its current and former players’ recent work in honor of Juneteenth — a holiday which celebrates the freedom of Black Americans from slavery.


On the surface, UConn basketball seems to be inching towards a return. The NCAA’s Division I council approved a framework to allow men’s and women’s basketball teams to return to campus for summer workouts. UConn has an initial plan to bring students back and re-open. And now, four of the major sports leagues — MLS, NBA, NHL and WNBA — are set to return.

Those are all positive steps towards the return of sports and none discourage the idea that college sports can return on time. However, there are still some major challenges and questions that need to be answered. And it seems Geno Auriemma has elected to exercise some caution, delaying his team’s return to campus until later in the summer.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the news twice this week when he discussed both MLB and the NFL, neither of which sprung much optimism for college athletics. First, he said that MLB shouldn’t play games too deep in October since “viruses do better” when the weather cools down and people are inside more. A few days later, Fauci said the NFL would need to play in a bubble to hold a season.

“Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” he told ESPN. The early results at schools like Clemson, Texas and LSU have shown that dozens of football players have tested positive or been quarantined due to proximity to a positive test. Houston had to cancel voluntary workouts.

This highlights two of the biggest problems facing college basketball. First, the preseason starts in October with the regular season beginning in November — the exact timeframe Fauci advises avoiding.

Second, it’d be nearly impossible for college to play in a bubble. Even if, hypothetically, the Big East split into the East-West Divisions for basketball, that would only account for a portion of UConn’s schedule — without even taking into consideration that players would still have class obligations.

Those aren’t the only issues in play. While basketball may have the smallest roster size, it’s played indoors and by all accounts, transmission of the virus is far higher inside that out. It’s one thing to bring an opposing team to an open field but with basketball, opposing teams would cover a lot more ground from entering the arena, going into the locker room, heading out onto the floor and then playing on the court itself.

It’s also not as simple as having roughly 12 players and three coaches. There’s a whole team of support staff behind the scenes — managers, trainers, equipment, etc. — not to mention those in operations that run the game like scorekeepers, officials, camera operators, producers and so on. Some of those positions can probably be limited or eliminated for the sake of safety. But that’s still a lot of people in one small, confined space without a ton of room to spread out.

Similarly, are players going to be required to play or can they opt out? Nobody should be forced to play if they don’t feel comfortable yet unlike the pros, there aren’t any free agents that teams can sign to fill its roster. If just two UConn players opted, the Huskies would be down to eight players. Players should absolutely have the right to say not to playing without fear of punishment.

And unlike the pro leagues, college athletes don’t have a union to stand up for them. Can the NCAA be trusted to put the best interests of student-athletes first instead of making money? Will anyone advocate for the players when plans and guidelines for the season are being drawn up? Without representation, it’d be nearly impossible to negotiate blanket changes and instead would likely have to be done on a team-by-team basis, which doesn’t favor the athletes.

However, it’s not all bad. A few sources of optimism:

October and November is a long ways away and a lot can happen in that time — good and bad. By then, there could be devices that can detect the virus early (the NBA will use “smart rings” which can track COVID-19 symptoms) or a breakthrough could happen in the medical field.

Basketball also has the flexibility to push back its season pretty far and still play a full schedule (or at least close to it). Almost all teams play in school-owned facilities and those that rent out other larger facilities could move into smaller gyms since it’s unlikely fans will be allowed in anyways. Maybe the season starts in January and runs until May with the Final Four in June. It’s unconventional but the logistics probably wouldn’t be too difficult, all things considered.

There will certainly be a push by everyone involved to play, but can it be done safely without putting unrealistic demands on everyone involved? That remains to be seen.

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