The West Virginia University basketball team travels to Sioux Falls, South Dakota Monday, where it will stay for five days while participating in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic basketball tournament.
There might be a worse place to hold a basketball tournament right now, but you would be hard pressed to find it.
Covid-19 is spreading rapidly in most states, including West Virginia, but in the Dakotas it is exploding. South Dakota has averaged over 1,400 new cases a day over the last week. Thirty additional deaths were attributed to the virus there on Wednesday.
The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center reports South Dakota’s daily percent positive this week is 56 percent and heading up. The state is second only to Wyoming in infection rate. By comparison, West Virginia’s rate is just over seven percent.
South Dakota’s Republican Governor, Kristi Noem, has consistently resisted consensus health expert advice to wear masks and avoid crowds. South Dakota hosted the annual motorcycle rally at Sturgis in August that attracted several hundred thousand people and turned into a virus super spreader event.
Just this week, the Sioux Falls City Council finally approved an ordinance requiring face masks
The basketball tournament was originally scheduled to be played in the Bahamas, but was canceled because of the pandemic. Ironically, South Dakota was chosen because it was viewed as a safer place to play.
Several of the marquee teams scheduled to participate in the tournament had second thoughts as the virus numbers rose. Dayton, Utah, Ohio State, Texas A&M, and Duke all withdrew. West Virginia remained committed, believing that enough safety precautions will be in place.
“We are comfortable with the testing procedures and safety measures that are in place for our student-athletes and staff prior to leaving for South Dakota and while in Sioux Falls,” said Bryan Messerly, WVU Associate Athletic Director for Communications. “Our student-athletes and staff will be completely isolated.”
There will, however, be fans present. The Wall Street Journal reports the tournament is “planning to allow crowds of roughly 850 people, or 25 percent of the arena’s capacity, even as other states with much lower rates of infection limit indoor gatherings to a handful of people.”
Notably, the tournament is now sponsored by Sanford Health, a national health care provider that is headquartered in Sioux Falls. The Journal reported that Sanford Health officials sent a letter to each team saying it could handle any additional health care needs.
“This is an opportunity for Sanford Health to enhance our presence on the national stage as innovative leaders in the fight against the pandemic,” the letter said.
Dr. Tom Frieden, former director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when asked by the Journal whether holding a basketball tournament in South Dakota was a good idea replied, “That’s a no brainer. The answer to that is a slam dunk: No.”
Coach Bob Huggins’ team is loaded this year. The Mountaineers are expected to compete for a conference championship and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Fans are anxious to see them compete.
However, flying into a virus hot zone to compete in a pre-season tournament that has already lost much of its luster is, at best, unnecessary, and, at worst, irresponsible.