Tim Tai, Staff Photographer

The Yale men’s basketball team’s Thursday game vs. Howard has been canceled due to COVID-19 cases within the Bison program, Yale Athletics announced Wednesday afternoon. 

Howard (6–6, 0–0 MEAC), coming off a 77–69 loss at Harvard on Tuesday night, was originally set to tip off with Yale (6–7, 0–0 Ivy) at 2 p.m. in the John J. Lee Amphitheater. The game is now one of more than 120 men’s and women’s college basketball contests that have been called off amid an omicron-fueled rise in COVID-19 cases, according to NCAA figures reported by Sports Illustrated.

“Certainly I’ve noticed the spike around the country with omicron and how it’s affecting college basketball,” Yale head coach James Jones said in a phone call with the News after the athletic department announced the cancellation “You notice a great percentage of games that have been canceled or forfeit because of it … It’s just the state of where we are in our country right now trying to fight this disease.”

Jones said that he received a call from Howard head coach Kenneth Blakeney before Yale’s practice on Wednesday. Jones said Blakeney told him “three guys” tested positive and that Howard could not play the game.

A Howard statement released Wednesday indicated that the positive results occurred among the program’s “Tier 1” personnel, which includes student-athletes, coaches, medical staff, equipment staff, game day operators and officials. The release added that all of its Tier 1 members are vaccinated or have an approved exemption. Howard’s Dec. 30 game against Hampton has also been canceled. 

The contest would have marked the two schools’ second-ever meeting. Yale visited the Bison in Washington, D.C. in Jan. 2020, winning 89–75.

Jones said the two programs were looking for a make-up date to play this season, but in an email, Howard Assistant Athletic Director of Media Relations and Sports Information Derek Bryant told the News later Wednesday afternoon that the Howard-Yale game “has been canceled and will not be rescheduled for this season.”

Yale captain and guard Jalen Gabbidon ’22 said he thought the University and the athletic department have done “an excellent job” managing COVID-19 protocols this year. He said that the team is now 13 games into the season and without a positive test yet.

“While the current COVID situation is frustrating because of the 2020–21 Ivy sports cancellations, the reality is it’s just the world we live in,” Gabbidon said. “After a year and a half hiatus from competitive hoops, you stop taking games for granted. Our team is following protocols and doing our part to mask up and reduce the spread.”

Even if the game had taken place Thursday, no fans would have been in attendance at JLA. On Tuesday, Yale announced that the remaining 2021 home games — the Howard game as well as a women’s basketball contest vs. Army on Dec. 28 and a men’s hockey game against Merrimack on Jan. 1 — would be played with no fans. At the beginning of the winter season, Yale established an indoor fan attendance policy that requires fans to be fully vaccinated, wear masks and be over the age of 11.

JLA has been operating at a 75-percent maximum capacity for games this winter, though attendance during nonconference games has not yet reached that threshold. Yale is averaging 989 fans across six home games this season. The highest recorded men’s basketball game attendance at JLA this season has been 1,590 for Yale’s win over the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Well again it’s one of those things, it’s the state of where we are,” Jones said of what it might have been like to play at home with no fans if the game had not been canceled. “We’re trying to react to what’s going on in our country and get ahead of it. I was pleased that the game was not [originally] canceled, that we were gonna try to play it, and do the best we can to compete and stay as normal as possible.”

The canceled game is at least the second Yale athletic event called off because of COVID-19 protocols this month. A women’s basketball game vs. the University of Massachusetts Lowell was canceled on Dec. 11 because of health and safety protocols in the Bulldogs program. The Yale men’s and women’s squash matches against Williams and Drexel were also canceled at the beginning of the month. While the Ephs made the decision to cancel their match with Yale, the Bulldogs’ Drexel match was postponed to Jan. 9 after a Yale men’s squash player tested positive, though the athletic department never officially confirmed a causal connection between the two.

In college basketball, the increasing frequency of positive tests has created last-minute scheduling chaos for some schools. No. 2 Duke, originally scheduled to host Cleveland State last Saturday, lined up Loyola as a replacement on Thursday after Cleveland State had to withdraw because of coronavirus cases in its program. When Loyola pulled out of the game for the same reason a day later, Duke scheduled Elon as a late-hour replacement for the replacement.

Brown head coach Mike Martin took to Twitter to find a new opponent after the Bears’ game with the University of Rhode Island was canceled.

“If anyone is looking to fill a game this week, the Brown Bears are available on Wednesday 12/22,” Martin wrote. “We can travel,” he added. 

The search was apparently fruitful: Brown is now slated to play at Syracuse on Monday as the Orange come off of a 16-day pause during which about 14 of its 20 players tested positive for the virus, according to the Daily Orange.

The Bulldogs’ last nonconference game of the calendar year is set to take place on Dec. 28, when Yale is scheduled to play at St. Mary’s in California before opening the Ivy League season in New Haven on Jan. 2.

WILLIAM MCCORMACK
William McCormack covers Yale men's basketball. He previously served as a Sports and Digital Editor for the Yale Daily News and also reported on the athletic administration as a staff reporter. Originally from Boston, he is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.