Dear college basketball: Those chin diapers really need to go — either back up and over the mouths and noses of coaches, or off of the court entirely.
We’re talking, of course, about masks on coaches to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The NCAA has required, sort of, face coverings on coaches during the regular season and NCAA tournament, which starts Thursday.
The problem is that coaches incessantly pull their masks off of their faces and under their chins to holler at the referees, or to bark orders to players during huddles along the sidelines.
The cavalier attitude toward public health protocols sends a bad message. It tells tens of millions of fans that masks really aren’t that important during a pandemic.
We understand college coaches are intensely competitive, and masks can muffle their words. The drama and emotion of March Madness, with exasperated coaches stalking the sidelines, make it exciting to watch.
It’s also true that college players, unlike those in high school in Wisconsin, aren’t required to wear masks while on the court.
But coaches turning their masks into neckwear is a bad look for the NCAA. What’s the point of requiring face coverings that don’t actually cover the face? When coaches yell without masks, virus-laced water droplets could be spreading to others around them.
A warning, followed by a technical foul, for a coach with his mask under his chin would quickly bring compliance. Or maybe, given the litany of other health precautions the NCAA is taking, masks should disappear from sidelines.
Consider that the NCAA is requiring seven straight negative COVID-19 tests before participants can compete in the tournament in Indianapolis. Players, coaches and trainers are secluded at hotels to avoid contact even with family. They wear devices to track their movements and warn them if they come within 6 feet of anyone who tests positive.
Then there’s the biggest incentive to be careful: If coaches and players catch COVID, their season is over.
Yet in the heat of the moment, with the game on the line, coaches across the country have prioritized winning over wearing masks — because the NCAA lets them. Pretty much every coach is an offender, including Greg Gard, who leads our beloved Wisconsin Badgers.
To be fair, Gard has a lot to yell about, given his team’s spotty shooting and four losses in its last five games. But like other loyal fans, we’ll still be rooting as loud as ever — from the comfort of our homes, not in crowded bars — when the Badgers take on North Carolina on Friday.
Gard should learn from Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst. After Chryst and more than two dozen of his players and staff caught COVID-19 last fall — losing two weeks of their season — Chryst used Scotch tape to secure his mask onto his face and avoid fogging up his glasses. Maybe college basketball should upgrade to duct tape?
The NCAA canceled last year’s basketball tournaments because of the pandemic, which was sad yet responsible. Since then, we’ve learned a lot more about how the virus spreads. We’ve adjusted our lives, and many people have been vaccinated.
So bringing back March Madness makes sense. On, Wisconsin! And on with your masks, coaches. Wear them over your mouths and noses, or drop the ruse and leave them in the locker room.