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Health and safety are bigger priorities than basketball, period

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NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a Michigan State basketball fan, it’s been a rough stretch. Not only have the Spartans gotten off to a 2-4 start in Big Ten play, but three games — at Iowa, home against Indiana and home against Illinois — have now been postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the program. The next game Michigan State is eligible to play is on Thursday, Jan. 28, at Rutgers, and that is far from a sure thing to take place at this current juncture.

It’s frustrating missing out on watching my favorite team take the court, but it is the reality of the current world in which we live in, one that is dictated by the virus. As a fan and a person who covers the team, I miss MSU basketball right now, but the health and safety of all involved in college athletics — student-athletes, coaches, support staff, referees, etc. — needs to be the most pressing of priorities, and it is.

Postponing these games was not only the right thing to do, it was really the only correct option right now. Michigan State currently has four players battling the virus, as well as two staff members. Eight players have previously been infected. This is not only about keeping everybody in the Michigan State program safe, it is also about containing the virus and not spreading it by traveling or playing a contact sport against other programs. It would simply not be safe or responsible for the Spartans to be competing right now.

I do believe that most of you who are reading this will agree with my point here, although there will be some who disagree and still don’t believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is an actual threat, and believe that young, in-shape, college athletes won’t be affected by it.

Tom Izzo would certainly disagree with the COVID detractors. He had a few choice words for people who have that mindset at his press conference earlier this week.

“I think the reality that we all have to live with, that’s hard to live with if you haven’t gone through it, there’s two things I’d like to tell you,” Izzo said. “Number one, the people that say (COVID is) just like the flu, tell that to D.J. (associate head coach Dwayne Stephens, who lost his father due to COVID). Number two, the people that tell you that’s it’s not as serious as you think because some kids get through it, that’s OK until you’ve lost a son or daughter.”

Izzo was also adamant that he has been as honest and open as can be related to the COVID issues within the program, and he also says that his players have followed every protocol possible. Yet the program was still hit hard with the virus, because quite frankly, it can hit and spread any time, anywhere. The virus determines the timeline for MSU to get back to full team practices and competition.

“To let you know that this virus determines the timeline of everything — I don’t determine it and really my doctors don’t determine it, the virus determines it. But we follow the recommendations of the medical team, we will do as good a job as we can do in getting (the information) to you every day and it’s not (being) a Debby Downer, I just get sick and tired of people questioning what we’re doing. We’re going through this day by day just like you are.”

As for how the sick players are doing, Izzo said “it goes in phases” and that some of the players are struggling more than others. He mentioned his son, Steven Izzo, went from having zero cough to barely being able to speak on the phone because he couldn’t stop coughing.

Izzo also mentioned that his players desperately want to be playing right now, and would play a game four-on-five if they were allowed to do so. But the team understands this is the best course of action right now and is handling it well.

The hope is that Michigan State will be able to complete its full schedule. Izzo thinks it can happen, but unfortunately, that is too hard to predict right now.

“I do think we’ll get through the season,” Izzo said. “And I do think we’ll have a championship. I do think we’ll be playing games...I’m voting that I think we’re gonna make it, I think we’re gonna play it. We’re going through a rough time right now for a week, other schools have gone through it. We just got to do our best to make it a week or 10 days, not three or four weeks like some have gone through.”

When, and only when, it is safe for the Spartans to resume playing games again, it will happen. Keeping the players, coaches and everybody else within the program safe is the top priority, and doing whatever possible to ensure the long term health of those involved is absolutely more important that basketball right now. Period.