NOTE: This is an incredibly fluid situation, and some of the information in this article may be out of date by the time you read it. Stay up to date with other official sources for the most up-to-date info.
Since the final buzzer sounded on VCU’s 20-point dominating home win over Florida Atlantic on Wednesday night, the Rams have been in scramble mode.
Early Thursday morning, VCU Athletics announced that the next game on VCU’s schedule, a home game against Penn State, had been canceled due to positive COVID-19 cases within the Penn State program. The game will not be made up in the 2021-22 season, although VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin tweeted that Penn State will complete the second half of the schools’ home-and-home series “likely next year.”
The sudden change leaves VCU with an open date over the weekend, with numerous potential options to fill that date. While the Penn State-VCU game is the first game canceled due to COVID-19 this year among the Atlantic 10’s 14 member schools, COVID-19 cancelations across college basketball have hit a season-high in the last 48 hours.
Early speculation on social media revolved around another program’s open date: #2 Duke. Duke was originally scheduled to host Cleveland State on Dec. 18 before the program canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.
After a morning of speculation, Duke scheduled Loyola (Md.) to come to Cameron Indoor Stadium. McLaughlin tweeted that Duke “chose to play Loyola (Md) instead of us. We tried.”
Penn State will come back here to play us, likely next year. Duke chose to play Loyola (Md) instead of us. We tried.
— Ed McLaughlin (@GoVCURamsAD) December 16, 2021
However, about 24 hours later, Loyola (Md.) canceled the game due to issues related to COVID-19. As of noon Friday, there is no word on who, if anybody, will play Duke on Saturday.
What is known for sure is that if VCU plays this weekend, it will be a road game. In an email to ticketholders sent out Friday morning, the VCU Ticket Office said “there will be no replacement game at the Siegel Center on Saturday.”
The option remains open for VCU to take a road trip. If VCU schedules a road game for the weekend, it will break up what was scheduled to be a five-game homestand. After returning from the short, two-hour road trip to ODU last Saturday, the Rams were not scheduled to play another road game until the Dayton game on Jan. 5. The Dayton game was also scheduled to be the first time the Rams left the commonwealth of Virginia since returning from the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas in late November.
One option some fans on social media floated was a potential road game against the Iona Gaels and head coach Rick Pitino. Iona’s Saturday game against Seton Hall was canceled on Thursday due to COVID issues within the Seton Hall program.
On Twitter, Pitino publicly sought an opponent willing to travel to “the world’s most famous arena.”
Short notice, but anyone out there interested in playing us at 3:00PM on Saturday in the worlds most famous arena??? 🤦♂️
— Rick Pitino (@RealPitino) December 16, 2021
Pitino also publicly asked Kentucky basketball for the opportunity to play them after their opponent bowed out due to COVID concerns. Kentucky ended up scheduling a game against the University of North Carolina, which also had to shuffle its schedule due to COVID.
As of noon Friday, Iona does not have an opponent for tomorrow. Pitino tweeted Thursday night that that was the deadline to get an opponent, and that short of that, Iona will “try and get a makeup game down the road.”
So where does that leave VCU? Time is running out for the Rams to find an alternate opponent for Saturday, and it looks likely that the Rams will remain idle until their next scheduled game, a Dec. 21 matchup at the Siegel Center against New Hampshire.
However, VCU is no stranger to having to make quick scheduling moves.
At the beginning of last season, VCU’s multi-team event, the Volunteer Classic, was canceled due to COVID issues. Four and a half hours after the cancellation, VCU Basketball Director of Operations Jimmy Martelli had booked the Rams for an alternate MTE in North Dakota.
The quick retooling of the schedule by Martelli led to a memorable tweet from VCU head coach Mike Rhoades:
Jimmy Martelli is a savage!!!
— Mike Rhoades (@CoachRhoades) November 24, 2020
But for now, there is no indication of who, if anybody, will fill VCU’s vacant time slot. If VCU does not schedule a new game, the Rams will have one more nonconference game before opening the A-10 schedule against George Mason at home on Dec. 30.
The COVID scheduling issue VCU is facing comes amidst a sudden spike in positive COVID-19 tests across sports in the last two weeks. Professional sports teams, namely the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Browns and Washington Football Team, have seen large portions of their rosters test positive for the virus.
It is unclear what exactly is leading to this spike in cases, which is also seen in the U.S. population at large. It is likely due to the onset of winter weather, the spread of the more contagious omicron variant, the waning effect of COVID-19 vaccinations after six months, or some combination of factors.
No matter the cause, anticipate scheduling issues and COVID pauses like this to become more common, at least in the short term. Being able to be flexible with scheduling will be key for A-10 teams to complete the 2021-22 season.