As the omicron variant is ravaging the globe and putting the sports world in a submission hold that Bob Backlund would be proud of, it feels like we’re destined for another shutdown. But, while some schools, conferences, and leagues are trying their best to go about this in a smart and safe way, the Memphis men’s basketball team has turned into “that guy.”
“We had COVID situations last year, but never to the magnitude of this, before the biggest game of the season for us,” Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway said after their game against Tennessee was canceled. “You can’t force anybody to do it. Just give them the pluses and minuses of having versus not having it.”
Hardway’s program is on pause. And despite what he says, you can force people to get vaccinations, as his team has already received prior vaccines for different causes.
“The state of Tennessee requires state public institutions of higher education to verify that students have received mandated immunizations and meet certain health requirements. We have created a new system where students may upload health documents for processing. After our office reviews the uploaded documentation, an email message will be sent to the student’s @memphis.edu email address,” reads the “Student Health Center” section of the school’s website.
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So far, the Tigers have canceled one game (Tennessee) and postponed Tuesday’s game against Alabama State. They aren’t scheduled to play again until they’re supposed to travel to New Orleans on Dec. 29 to face Tulane. But, that game could also be in the air, as Tulane is one of the 30-plus teams who have also called a timeout.
“It’s getting there,” Hardaway said in the summer of his team’s vaccination status. “We’re not going to force anybody to do anything, [that’s] our point of view. The kids have to be comfortable with that and their parents have to be comfortable with it.”
He’s now admitting that he didn’t handle things the best way.
“Initially, when I talked to the guys earlier, they were all talking about being vaccinated, and I never visited it again,” he explained. “So I probably misspoke.”
Before this season started, Memphis was ranked No. 12 in the AP’s preseason poll, off the strength of having freshman sensations Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren. Things haven’t gone as planned for the Tigers as they sit with a 6-4 record, having only received 1 vote in the latest poll, which leaves them outside the Top 25 and basically ranked 42nd.
Hardaway has a young team with a mix of veterans and a ton of talent. It’s way too early to count them out. But, with the way that program has handled the pandemic and vaccinations, it appears that Memphis will be Memphis’ biggest foe this season.