William McCormack, Contributing Photographer

The Ivy League’s conference basketball season starts Sunday, but a national surge in COVID-19 cases might force Ancient Eight teams to make abrupt adjustments on the fly.

Positive test results have canceled a number of college basketball contests in recent weeks and threaten to do the same for Ivy League squads returning to league play for the first time since early March 2020. Still, all 16 men’s and women’s squads are set to tip off between 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. on Jan. 2. 

As of Thursday, at least 110 NCAA Division I men’s games and 100 women’s games scheduled to occur between Christmas and New Year’s Day had been canceled, postponed or forfeit. Coronavirus-induced scheduling changes affected contests this week for the Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard and Penn men’s teams, as well as the Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth and Princeton women’s teams.

If COVID-19 isolation or quarantine protocols affect teams’ ability to play conference games, the Ivy League plans to make rescheduling those contests a priority. According to Meghan Moore, the conference’s assistant executive director for communications and championships, each team must have seven players able to compete in order for a game to occur.

“The league is committed to exhausting all efforts to reschedule games that are postponed due to COVID,” Moore wrote in an email to the News. “It has had longstanding policies in place which provide multiple layers of support for this season and have been reaffirmed by the league’s Athletics Directors throughout the course of the pandemic.”

If a contest needs to be rescheduled, Moore said that the two schools will discuss the rescheduling in collaboration with the league office. She added that the Ivy League will consider games that cannot be rescheduled as “no contests” instead of as forfeits.

Amid the emergence of the Omicron variant and a subsequent spike in game cancellations, several major college conferences have revised their policies to avoid declaring immediate forfeits for teams hobbled by COVID-19 issues. In the ACC, for example, the Boston College men’s team and Miami women’s team were initially assigned forfeits earlier this month after coronavirus protocols forced them to call off their respective games with Wake Forest and Duke. A unanimous decision from ACC athletic directors last week removed the automatic COVID-19 forfeiture policy and applied the decision retroactively, wiping losses for BC and Miami from the conference standings.

These protocols are “longstanding” in the Ivy League, according to Moore, and they apply to all sports. She said the conference’s eight ADs have “made subtle changes” to modify policies over the course of the pandemic.

Rescheduled games could potentially lead to weekday hoops, a change from the Ivy League’s traditional Friday and Saturday schedule for league basketball contests. When it comes to testing, isolation and quarantine requirements, Moore told the News that each basketball team will adhere to its own university policies.

All eight Ivy League schools started the school year with a coronavirus vaccination requirement for students. They are also now all requiring booster shots for students, often within 30 days of becoming eligible, though several schools’ deadlines are not until a few weeks into the conference basketball season. Columbia’s deadline is Jan. 24; Brown’s is Jan. 26; and Cornell’s, Dartmouth’s, Princeton’s and Penn’s are Jan. 31. Yale is requiring students to get their booster before returning for the spring semester — on-campus undergraduates can move back to campus as early as Jan. 14 but no later than Feb. 4 before in-person classes are set to resume on Feb. 7.

Both the Yale men’s and women’s teams each had a nonconference game called off in December. The men’s scheduled game against Howard on Dec. 23 was canceled because of COVID-19 positives within the Bison program, while the Bulldogs’ women’s game vs. the University of Massachusetts Lowell was called off on Dec. 11 because of COVID-19 health protocols within the Yale program.

The Howard game would have been played without fans after the University banned fan attendance on Dec. 21 for home athletic contests through Jan. 1.

“Playing without fans would have been strange, almost like a scrimmage,” Yale men’s guard and captain Jalen Gabbidon ’22 told the News after the cancellation of the Howard game. “But it’s definitely weirder having a game cancelled altogether.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the athletic department has not announced any new fan attendance policy for home athletic contests after Jan. 1. 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.

Several of Yale’s Ivy peers are now closing games to the general public as the United States and northeastern states record their highest case counts since the start of the pandemic. Harvard announced this week that through Jan. 23, only “a limited number of guests of the student-athletes and coaches” will be permitted to attend winter games and that concessions will not be sold. Dartmouth is doing the same through Jan. 18. Columbia contests will also be closed to the general public through the same day, meaning that the Yale women’s team will play its Ivy opener against the Lions Sunday without fans. According to their most recent updates, Brown, Cornell, Princeton and Penn are continuing to allow some form of general admission. 

Omicron’s arrival coincides with the first season the Ivy League is adopting an adjusted format for conference basketball scheduling: league play still consists of the same 14 games but is taking place over 10 weeks instead of eight, meaning that Ivy games are beginning two weeks earlier than they have in the past. The 10-week conference schedule also means that teams are playing three weekends of the conference’s signature back-to-back Friday and Saturday games instead of six weekends.

The changes were announced before the start of the pandemic and were originally supposed to take effect last year before the yearlong cancellation of Ancient Eight athletic competition. At least one Ivy League basketball analyst suggested exploring the possibility of postponing the season by adhering to the previous 8-week format in order to avoid a winter holiday virus peak. 

“This might be the year to put this new scheduling on hold and let’s maybe get through the winter, push the season back, increase our testing if we’re not doing it already,” former Princeton men’s basketball coach Sydney Johnson said on a Dec. 23 episode of his podcast, the Ivy League Hoops Hour. “Hold till the Friday-Saturdays so that we can get 14 league games in, play the Ivy League tournament, and send our best team off to the NCAA tournament.”

Teams are still set to start their conference seasons on Sunday. One advantage of the new scheduling format, at least as the pandemic continues, might be the extra room it creates for rescheduled games in February by distributing the same number of contests over two extra weeks. The season will still lead into Ivy Madness, the conference’s four-team postseason basketball tournament that went into effect in 2017 but has not been played since March 2019 because of the coronavirus. 

The Ivy League also has Ivy Madness contingency plans prepared.

“If one or more participating teams are impacted and cannot compete, the remaining teams will be re-seeded accordingly,” Moore told the News. “The next team based on the selection and tie-breaking procedures will be added to the field as the lowest seed.”

Harvard is set to host Ivy Madness from March 11 to 13 at its Lavietes Pavilion.

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.