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Gordon Monson: Barring hotel guests, playing Yellowstone Christian, wearing masks all part of sports’ ongoing battle with COVID-19

Cancellations, tougher restrictions have become the rule as the pandemic rages on in the U.S. At least some are chafing over it.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens) | Brooklyn Nets guard Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (9) and center Jarrett Allen defend against Oklahoma City Thunder guard George Hill (3) as Hill goes up for a layup during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in New York. Hill, a Utah Jazz alum, is an outspoken critic of the new COVID-19 restrictions the NBA handed down this week.

NBA games are being postponed, a recent example — the Jazz-Wizards road-trip ender on Wednesday night, Utah instead heading home a night early because the Wizards couldn’t safely floor a team. …

New stricter protocols have been put into place across the NBA to fight the spread of COVID-19, requiring, among other measures, players on traveling teams to be penned up in their hotel rooms, unable to escape the luxurious walls surrounding them, unable to leave the premises for non-team activities, unable to have non-team guests drop in for a visit. …

Make no mistake, that last one is a biggie.

NFL playoff teams are performing with chunks of their squads absent due to players’ exposure or potential exposure to the virus. …

College basketball games, men’s and women’s, are being canceled or moved, programs pivoting on a dime, schedules being shaped and reshaped on the fly, such as in the case of Weber State, the Wildcats, after having had six games canceled, facing anyone who can healthily play them.

And by anyone, we mean anyone.

Their two home opponents this weekend feature names that sound fictional, as though they were made up for a Disney movie — Yellowstone Christian College and Tarleton State. A thousand bucks says most knowledgeable college hoops fans around here have never heard of those schools, and probably none of the Weber players — until now.

Yellowstone Christian, the Centurions, are located in Billings, Mont., and, according to their Website, “aim to share the love of Christ in the athletic arena.” The school’s total enrollment — 100 students — could fit into a single squad room at the Dee Events Center. The school recruits student-athletes from wherever it can find them, including Utah’s own Layton Christian Academy. According to Max Soft, YCC’s dean of enrollment, basketball teams were created at the school for purposes of bringing in more students. Prior to the installation of men’s and women’s basketball programs, the school had a mere 17 students.

“We have great kids,” he said. “They play hard.”

And he said, in light of the COVID situation, “We’ll go anywhere and play anyone.”

Is the team any good?

“We’re entertaining,” he said.

Tarleton State, the Texans, are located an hour southwest of Fort Worth, and they’ve had three games postponed and five games canceled. They did give Texas A&M a good run at the beginning of December, having a 10-point second-half lead erased, losing to the Aggies, 73-66.

BYU and Utah and Utah State, like pretty much all other college basketball teams, have had multiple games postponed, moved or blotted out. Some teams, including a few of the Cougars’ conference foes, have at one point or another paused basketball operations to combat the virus.

So, the conflict between playing professional and college sports and battling a pandemic rages on. Arenas and stadiums are empty or mostly empty, proper caution interfering with the normal course of play.

Normal may rarely be taken for granted again.

The NBA’s revised rules, agreed upon by the league and the players association, mean to prevent, as mentioned, players and staff from allowing outsiders into their hotel rooms while on the road, a tightened measure that previously had allowed up to two guests in rooms, either family members or long-time personal friends.

Not anymore.

While at home, players and staff must stay at home, with a few exceptions. Team meetings will be limited in length and circumstances, with an emphasis on ample room for spacing between individuals and a requirement of wearing masks. And masks must be worn on the bench during games, along with adequate spacing on team flights. The protocols go on and on and on, including a requirement among players to “avoid extended socializing.”

“No one wants to see further restrictions imposed,” said Michele Roberts, the NBPA executive director, via ESPN. “No one also wants to see the infection rate increase, if there are steps we can take to mitigate the risk. Our experts have concluded that these new procedures will add to our arsenal of weapons against the virus. It would be irresponsible and unacceptable to not employ new measures aimed at better promoting and protecting our players’ safety.”

Some don’t want to be protected.

Former Jazz and current OKC Thunder guard George Hill told ESPN he would do as he pleases.

“We want to play the game,” he said, “but I don’t understand some of the rules. We can sweat 48 minutes with a guy next to us ... but we can’t talk to them afterwards. It makes no sense.”

That does seem a bit perplexing.

He added: “I’m a grown man. I’m gonna do what I want to do. If I want to go see my family, I’m going to go see my family. They can’t tell me I have to stay in a room 24/7. If it’s that serious, then maybe we shouldn’t be playing. But it’s life. No one’s going to be able to just cancel their whole life for this game.”

No one’s canceling whole paychecks, either.

Tragically, whole lives have been canceled on account of this virus. Nearly 400,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. And while sports is continuing to be played, at paid and unpaid levels, bumpy though that ride is, Hill does bring up a strong point calling into question the wisdom of powering ahead in such an environment.

But, love it or hate it, since the powering is going on, so must the taking of precautions, straight into the menacing, unmasked face of a stubborn pandemic that so far has refused to yield.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.

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