Pitt basketball’s COVID-19 issue offers perspective
Prior to his team’s trip to play Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener earlier this month, Pittsburgh men’s basketball coach Jeff Capel joked about traveling to a place with nicer weather but not being allowed to enjoy it due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Capel coached the Panthers to a victory that night, but three days later Pitt announced he had tested positive for the virus. He missed the Panthers’ next game, a loss to Louisville a week ago, but was scheduled to coach tonight against Duke before the game was postponed Monday following another positive test, subsequent quarantining and contact tracing within the Pitt program.
“It was a bitch, to be honest with you,” Capel said Monday regarding dealing with his own case of the virus and before it was announced that tonight’s game was off. “It was tough. I had symptoms, and it was difficult dealing with the symptoms. The isolation was hard. I understand a little bit better now while solitary confinement is a form of punishment. I understand why Tom Hanks painted a volleyball and turned it into Wilson and why he lost his mind when Wilson went away. It’s difficult. The isolation is difficult the sickness and the different symptoms are very hard. I’m fortunate I didn’t have it as bad as some have. I didn’t have to be hospitalized, but I was close, so I’m thankful for that, but it’s a bitch.”
We have heard so much from people on both sides of the issue involving sports taking place during a pandemic, but there haven’t been many people highly-involved with local teams that have spoken out and actually dealt with the virus personally.
Capel didn’t hide his feelings about whether or not he feels that his team should be playing at all during the pandemic, but his opinion that they should not is one he held even before testing positive.
“When you look around and see what’s going on in the country with this disease and see the impact it’s having on people and families, that it is having on our country and you listen to people say don’t travel and don’t do these things, it just doesn’t feel right. Especially at our level,” Capel said. “The players aren’t getting paid to do this. It’s different to me if you are a professional athlete. That’s your job, and you can make a choice whether you want to do it or not.”
He also doesn’t seem to be pleased with the lack of an overall NCAA policy, which is something that hovered over the college football season as well with teams in the Big Ten playing under different circumstances than ones in other major conferences.
“On a professional level, the rules are the same for each team,” Capel said. “Leagues determine what the protocols are, and our protocols are all across the board. You have some teams that test every day. Some teams test three days a week. Other conferences do something different. I don’t think we should be playing right now, but I don’t think my experience of having COVID strengthened that at all.”
If Capel doesn’t think teams at the major college level should be playing, it’s likely that he doesn’t think high school sports teams should be competing, either. But he implies players at non-professional levels don’t have a choice whether they want to play or not, which doesn’t seem to be the case.
The school Capel graduated from, Duke, shut down women’s basketball for the season this past weekend. The coaching staff cited safety and health concerns and said the players were willing to sacrifice the season for safety.
Sure, the pressure on a power-five conference men’s college basketball team with major television contracts to play is much greater, but the option to not do so is there.
What’s more likely is that most college kids want to play.
The college and high school athletes I have spoken to over the past year about the virus have expressed, for the most part, that they would be willing to do anything to be back out on the court or field.
No players were made available during Capel’s press conference Monday, but it’s fair to question if some of them may feel slightly different about the virus and its possible effects on not just them but the people around them after seeing their coach struggle so mightily than they did when I’m sure they were pushing to have a season.
The vast majority of high school players and coaches in this area want to be playing right now, too. But it’s at least worth listening to Capel and wondering if teams would feel the same way if a coach or player went through the ordeal he’s dealt with the past month.
Michael Boytim can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BoytimMichael.