CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, the coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be posting the results on 10 questions asked.
Last college basketball season was largely played before COVID-19 vaccines were available, especially for young people. So lots of programs endured positive cases that triggered contact-tracing protocols and often led to a temporary shutdown. Games were constantly postponed. Games were constantly canceled.
We got through it, of course.
But, ask anybody, it was a total mess.
Fast-forward to the present, and we are fortunate enough to live in a country with plenty of vaccine available. Studies show it's safe. Studies show it's effective. It's free. So, with rare exceptions, there's no legitimate reason for anybody to remain unvaccinated. And the good news is that more than 55% of the coaches we polled for Tuesday's Candid Coaches question told us their teams are 100% vaccinated.
This is partly why this season will be played under different circumstances.
Most conferences have made it clear that rescheduling games will not be an option when teams are unable to play because of COVID-19 issues. If a team can't play, the game will be counted as a loss due to forfeit. So, with that in mind, we asked more than 100 college basketball coaches the following question:
Are you for or against forfeits this season if a team can't play due to reasons tied to COVID-19?
Quotes that stood out
From those who support forfeits
- "We worked hard to get our team fully vaccinated so that we would be fine once the season starts. If other programs don't take this as seriously, that's their problem. If you can't play because of COVID, you should forfeit. And I know it's possible that a fully vaccinated team could get shutdown, but that seems so unlikely that I'm personally not worried about it."
- "I'm perfectly fine with forfeits. We have a terrific vaccine to curb the spread of this virus. Use it!"
- "[I'm for forfeits because] it will help everyone get vaccinated. I am a believer that, yes, someone vaccinated -- including me -- could still get [COVID], but you're chances are so, so, so, much [lower]."
- "I am in favor of forfeits. I believe it's a selfish act to your program, and to society, to not be vaccinated unless you have a religious or good medical reason why you can't take the vaccine."
From those who are against forfeits
- "I do not think the forfeit rule should be steadfast. We should have flexibility for change as the season approaches. The virus is changing, the science is changing, and more and more breakthrough cases are happening. We do not know what the future holds."
- "We don't know where this virus is going. There's people out there getting it that are vaccinated. So is it fair to punish a team [for something] that's out of their control? I don't think that's right. Where it gets gray, and this is where it happened last year, is I didn't feel teams were very honest and it was frustrating as hell, to be honest. If there's an issue with COVID, I understand. But if you're using that as a crutch, it's bullshit. That happened a lot last year. For us, specifically, we got shutdown three separate times in league play, and we had a couple of opportunities to get games in that weren't played, and you have to really trust what the other school is doing and telling you is real. There's an honor code, which sucks, because this is big business. "
- "[Forfeits are] unfair to OTHER teams. Let's say we get two forfeit wins over [our biggest rival] this year ... and [another really good team in our conference] has two losses to [our biggest rival]. So we get the better seed in the league tourney because of forfeits? It's not fair to that other school. Makes NO sense."
- "[We should] reschedule [the games], make them up. Find time to get the games in. I think that it's our job as coaches to create the best opportunity for the most games for these student-athletes to have the best experience. It's why we gave them the year back."
In all the years we've been doing this, I don't remember many, if any, Candid Coaches questions generating answers so split down the middle. This was very, very close. And what I found most interesting about the responses is that the "for forfeits" votes largely came from coaches whose teams are fully vaccinated while the "against forfeits" votes largely came from coaches whose teams are not fully vaccinated.
So folks mostly voted with their best interests in mind.
As some coaches pointed out, it is possible for a fully vaccinated team to be shutdown -- but it also seems incredibly unlikely because of the protocols most leagues now have in place. In short, fully vaccinated players aren't subject to regular testing; they're only tested if they show symptoms of a breakthrough case. And whereas positive tests always triggered contact-tracing protocols last season, which sources have told CBS Sports was the biggest factor in nearly all shutdowns, fully vaccinated players won't be subject to contact-tracing this season. So one or two -- or even three or four -- breakthrough cases for fully vaccinated teams likely won't cause a shutdown. Again, it's not impossible. But, practically speaking, the only programs that should fear a shutdown are programs with too many unvaccinated members.
Could COVID-19 variants change this reality?
And if they do, I'm certain everybody will be happy to revisit the situation. (That's what I gathered from coaches, at least.) But as long as the vaccine remains effective, and as long as fully vaccinated players aren't tested unless they're symptomatic, and as long as fully vaccinated players aren't subject to contact-tracing, the majority of coaches we polled see avoiding forfeits as a real enticement for players to get vaccinated, which is reason enough to have forfeits as a possible punishment for COVID-19 shutdowns. Plus, like many coaches mentioned, rescheduling games is tricky. It requires a lot of flexibility and trust. And most coaches we communicated with who worked hard to get their teams fully vaccinated have little interest in adjusting their schedules midseason to accommodate programs that didn't do the same.
Previously in Candid Coaches: