Horizon League to favor fully vaccinated programs for winter cancellations, including hoops

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The Horizon League can't make its athletes get vaccinated.

But the league appears to be sending a strong statement to teams that aren't 100% vaccinated — it could prove the difference between a no-contest and a forfeit for canceled games this winter season.

In cancelling multiple basketball games this week, the Horizon League, which officially has a default of forfeit, awarded no-contests to all but one team. The Detroit Mercy women (0-13), which canceled two weekend road games, at Green Bay and Milwaukee, were awarded a forfeit.

Detroit Mercy head coach LaTanya Collins yells out instructions to her players during practice at Calihan Hall in Detroit on Oct. 7, 2021.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Mercy men (4-7), who had to cancel home games against Youngstown State and Robert Morris, were awarded no-contests by the league.

Horizon League commissioner Julie Roe Lach gets the final decision on the canceled-game designations. She wouldn't get specific about the decisions involving the Detroit Mercy programs.

The fall sports season, with COVID cases down, featured mostly forfeit designations — with the exception of one volleyball match that was deemed a no-contest, because the volleyball team in question was 100% vaccinated and had experienced breakthrough cases.

The pandemic now has surged this winter, recently with the rapidly spreading omicron variant.

"As part of the overall contingency planning, we did start to revisit, would a surge of a variant have any impact," Roe Lach told The Detroit News this week. "Over the last two weeks, as we have all season, this surge is affecting vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to a pretty significant extent.

"We really wanted to broaden those instances where a forfeiture could be deemed a no-contest."

Specifically about Detroit Mercy women, Roe Lach stuck with the press release language, which said, "relief was not granted as circumstances did not meet the extraordinary threshold."

The Horizon League is the only conference involving state schools that is defaulting to forfeit for canceled games. The Big Ten and Mid-American Conference are leaning toward no-contest.

Still, clearly the Horizon League is open to the no-contests; with each canceled game, Roe Lach will review the school's medical information and make a final determination.

The Horizon League, though, will revert back to its 2020-21 plan in terms of seeding for the conference tournament, when it used a formula to determine the slotting given all the games that were canceled. It gave weight to teams that played most of their schedule or even all of their schedule, as the Oakland men did. Winning percentage will determine the seeding for the 2022 tournament, recommended by most coaches.

That's likely locked in, Roe Lach said, though she added that in this day and age, "You never say never." If the league ends up bombarded by cancellations, it could revisit that situation.

Also being revisited is the quarantine time required for athletes who test positive. It had been 10 days, but the CDC last week recommended that five was enough, and that people who tested positive could come out of quarantine on Day 6, so long as they were asymptomatic and wear a mask in social settings. Roe Lach, whose league got the CDC alert during a meeting Monday, said the league will continue requiring at least 10 days of quarantine before a player returns to competition, but added a player can return to campus and practices starting on Day 6, so long as they wear a mask.

"It's a win on the mental-health side," Roe Lach said. "These athletes are going to feel more normal.

"The mental-health piece is certainly not lost on me. It's still top of mind with our athletic directors and presidents and chancellors."

Oakland (7-4) was to miss a player for Thursday night's home game against Robert Morris and hoped to have him back for Saturday's game against Youngstown State with an isolation-period change. 

But it's tough to make a blanket change regarding quarantine, given there often are local guidelines in place that supersede college rules. The Horizon League has 12 schools in 11 cities and seven states.

The Horizon League, like many sports conferences across the country, also is seeking guidance from the NCAA. Most conferences, for basketball, are requiring at least seven players be available, and at least one coach. Professional sports leagues are starting to cut down on the isolation period in the wake of the recommendation by the CDC.

The Horizon League's medical-advisory panel will meet next week, and could make changes.

The situation, Roe Lach said, is fluid.

"It absolutely it is," she said. "Like with all of this."

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984