Detroit Mercy decides to sit out weekend, citing players' 'mental health'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit Mercy men's basketball has canceled its upcoming weekend series against UIC, days after coach Mike Davis blasted the Horizon League for forcing the Titans to play last weekend against Oakland despite COVID-19 contact-tracing concerns.

Detroit Mercy, in an announcement Wednesday, said it will sit out this weekend for "the mental health and well-being of its student-athletes."

The Horizon League, also in a statement, said it is "fully supportive" of the university's decision.

Detroit Mercy coach Mike Davis and his team are off to an 0-4 start in Horizon League play.

The games have been canceled and will be considered no contests, unlike if Detroit Mercy had walked away from last Saturday and Sunday's games against Oakland. The Horizon League told Detroit Mercy before Saturday's game that those games would go down as forfeits if the Titans decided not to play.

Detroit Mercy was scheduled to play at UIC on Friday and Saturday. It's unclear if UIC could play those games, given it paused its program more than a week ago after a coach tested positive. Most teams that shut down do so for at least two weeks.

Oakland played at UIC on Dec. 19-20, shortly before UIC had to shut down. It turned out a referee that worked both those games also tested positive for COVID-19, sending Oakland into contact-tracing protocol. Oakland reported that no player was within 6 feet of the official for anywhere close to 15 minutes over the two-day period — those metrics are based on CDC red flags — and the Horizon League moved forward with the Detroit Mercy-Oakland series at Calihan Hall.

That wasn't good enough for Davis, who was on the phone with top league executives hours before Saturday's game. He had already told his players not to expect to play.

"I'm responsible for these kids," Davis said after Sunday's loss to Oakland, completing the Golden Grizzlies' two-game sweep of their rival. 

"For us to be in this situation is unbelievable. This is life or death."

Davis' harsh comments caught the attention of Horizon League officials, who defended the protocols — approved before the season by the league's committee of doctors and school officials — then held a teleconference with Davis and Detroit Mercy athletic director Robert Vowels on Tuesday.

Detroit Mercy's program hasn't had a single player test positive for COVID-19, and Davis very much wants to keep it that way. One staff member tested positive before the season, which led Detroit Mercy to cancel its appearance at a season-opening tournament at Kentucky.

Vowels and Detroit Mercy president Dr. Antoine Garibaldi met with Davis this week and decided to briefly pause the program.

"The health and safety of our student-athletes have always been and will continue to be our top priority," Vowels said in a statement.

"With the uncertainty of the games being played this weekend and looking at everything our players have had to deal with so far, we decided that it was best for our program to take some time away for mental wellness."

Detroit Mercy (1-7) is scheduled to play again Jan. 7-8 at Milwaukee, then at home against Green Bay the following weekend, and possibly Oakland two more times after that. Last week's Detroit Mercy-Oakland series was quickly thrown together, because IUPUI had canceled on the Titans and Northern Kentucky on the Golden Grizzlies.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984