Wisconsin has played one game this season, beating Illinois, 45-7, back on Oct. 23. Then the Badgers got coronavirus, had their game last week at Nebraska canceled, and once again won’t play this week, when they were supposed to face Purdue at Camp Randall Stadium.
Will Wisconsin get back on the gridiron next Saturday at Michigan? Who knows? But the Badgers will play Notre Dame on Friday… in hockey.
The Big Ten, having apparently learned nothing from its experience with this football season, is ready to get back on ice, with next weekend also featuring Arizona State at Michigan, too, because … well, who the hell knows?
It’s not like there’s a ton of TV money coming in from college hockey, but even though the cold, damp air of indoor ice facilities, paired with the heavy breathing and close contact of hockey, have been linked to multiple COVID-19 outbreaks and many states have padlocked rinks, the Big Ten isn’t alone in giving this a go. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference plans to start its season on December 1, in a “Pod” in Omaha, Nebraska.
All of this gearing up for a sport that brings an increased risk of coronavirus comes at a time when the United States has set three consecutive daily records for new COVID-19 cases, including more than 128,000 on Friday.
Yes, the NHL avoided coronavirus when it returned to play this summer, but there were a few important factors there. For one thing, the pros went to Canada, where a competent government has done a much better job at controlling the virus (and even they’ve had trouble of late). Also, there’s the fact that the NHL was able to take over hotels and swaths of downtown Toronto and Edmonton, making a true bubble. That’s obviously not happening in the Big Ten, where teams will be traveling around, and, not to demean the NCHC, but it’s hard to believe that their setup in Omaha will be up to the same standards as an international pro league, in a place where the virus in more prevalent, at a riskier time of year for it.
And even pro leagues have had their troubles. In September, more than 200 players in the KHL in Russia got COVID-19, and NHL teams struggled too, from the lowly Ottawa Senators in March to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in June before heading to the bubble.
All of this information was available to these conferences before they decided to forge ahead with hockey, but forge ahead they will anyway, because … reasons? We still don’t know all about what kind of long-term effects coronavirus has on those who are infected, but it’s certainly not good, and putting people at risk for the sake of getting a few hockey games played is, at best, a frivolous risk.
In 1919, Montreal Canadiens defenseman Joe Hall died after contracting influenza during the pandemic-stricken Stanley Cup Final. His death should be a cautionary tale. Instead, we just keep doing this, and sadly won’t stop until there’s another Joe Hall — that is, if another Joe Hall even stops us at all.