The Holy Cross Crusaders defeated the Boston University Terriers 68-66 on Tuesday night. The score of this tight early-season conference game wasn’t at the forefront, however. This matchup marked the first occurrence of all players wearing masks during gameplay.
Boston and Holy Cross Players Wear Masks During Gameplay
The image of players wearing masks went far beyond what viewers have become accustomed to. We’re used to the empty seats—if not scarcely dotted by cardboard cutouts—and players and coaches donning face coverings on the sidelines. Active players wearing masks is different, and it can be seen as progress in two manners: safety and a strange new normal.
Like other conferences, the Patriot League has adopted the format of two-game series during the regular season. The intention behind the schedule change is to assure the safety of student-athletes and staff by trying to curb exposure to COVID-19 through excessive travel. Boston defeated Holy Cross 83-76 on Monday. This was the first game of each program’s respective season, but also the first one where fans witnessed Boston’s new uniform. The Terriers wore masks due to the university’s policy on face coverings.
The university’s website states: “Face coverings must be worn at all times: in any shared spaces, in BU student residences, in all University buildings, on the BU Shuttle, and on public transportation, as well as on the street and in public spaces.”
Monday’s game was played on Holy Cross’s campus where there are no such mandates to that degree. Therefore, the Crusaders did not wear face coverings during the game. Boston players abided by their university’s policy—to an extent.
The policy also states: “Wearing a face covering does not replace the need to maintain physical distancing and observing safety protocols in shared spaces.”
That’s hard to do in the paint or playing pressure defense on the perimeter.
Tuesday’s Masked-Up Matchup
Holy Cross players wore masks in Case Gym for the second leg of the series. It was the first game in men’s college basketball this season where both teams wore masks while on the court.
On the other side of the court, the Crusaders didn’t seem to mind the new addition to their outfit. Holy Cross, led by Gerrale Gates and Austin Butler, squeezed out a victory on the road. Though there wasn’t a hostile crowd to wash out, Boston seemingly still had a home-court advantage due to the mandate and already had played with face coverings.
However, experience wasn’t lacking for Holy Cross. Head Coach Brett Nelson told The Washington Post, “We’ve practiced in them for months now… once we got out there, our guys are used to playing with them, so I don’t think it played into the game at all.”
Gates scored 19 points on 7-for-16 shooting and Butler added 18, firing an impressive 70 percent from the field. Judson Martindale also contributed 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
If compared to Monday’s game, Gates posted parallel stats, Butler shot 61 percent but scored 24. Martindale didn’t register a bucket on only three attempts. Also, as a team, Holy Cross had similar efficiency. The Crusaders shot 46.3 percent on Monday and 45.8 percent on Tuesday. In fact, their free-throw percentage was significantly better and they turned the ball over one less time.
The difference could be attributed to the standard flow of a season and has nothing to do with face coverings.
Competitive athletes wearing masks during gameplay has been met with criticism depending on state policies. For example, Delaware had their high school athletes compete with face coverings, while New Mexico canceled fall sports. The New Mexico Lobos and New Mexico State Aggies even relocated out of state at the beginning of the season to escape the strict guidelines. For the sake of the global pandemic, is it really a big deal, though?
Arguments are saying that wearing a mask puts athletes at risk. While running, they could decrease oxygen levels, restrict airflow, cause oral infections from bacteria or fungi, and even create a soiled choking hazard.
There are too many dynamics to consider. For example, expanded studies need to account for the specific sport, the differing intensity between athletes, and the type of mask worn. Unfortunately, it’s too early to decipher significant issues with athletes wearing face coverings during competition.
The only visible problem during the Holy Cross and Boston game was the fit of the mask. Many players had their mask covering their chin rather than their mouth and nose.
Nelson said of the fit, “It’s not like you’re on a treadmill where it’s a steady pace; guys are jumping up and down, they’re getting hit, so it’s almost impossible to keep your mask up the whole game.”
The coach also mentioned that he will not urge his players to wear masks during their home games. They will, however, abide by the rules while on the road.
Does it Matter?
It’s hard to vouch for the usefulness of the policy when it’s unintentionally being broken. If the masks are falling during gameplay, not being used in timeout huddles, and players are pressed up against each other, is it just all for show?
Even if it is, it’s still something. Though the world seems to be trapped in an authoritarian dystopia better suited for a SciFi novel, society should try to take every step within its means to lessen the threat of infection. Or at least adhere to and respect the policies of others.
Holy Cross and Boston showed us safety and a strange new normal, indeed.
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