By John Bohnenkamp
The college basketball season isn’t going to be easy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said on Wednesday that anything is possible, and he’s made sure to continue making that point to his team.
“You don’t know what the next change is going to be,” Jacobson said during the Panthers’ media day video conference. “You just don’t. It’s hard to say what the next one is going to be.”
It’s why Jacobson told his players that this season was about being patient and being flexible.
The Panthers had a big change to their season opener earlier in the day. Instead of going to Nebraska to play in the Golden Window Classic, UNI is instead going to the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, S.D.
UNI will play West Virginia in the eight-team tournament next Wednesday. The Panthers will play either Saint Mary’s or Memphis the following day, and then either South Dakota State, Utah State, Wichita State or Creighton on the final day.
The Panthers, who are replacing Texas A&M in the event, will get three games in a season when it has been hard to find nonconference games.
Jacobson said the decision was made “in the last 24 hours” and was made because of the uncertainty over who the Panthers would play in a second game in Nebraska.
It was a difficult choice for Jacobson.
“Not something we were looking for,” he said. “I don’t like doing it. There are teams going to Nebraska still that were counting on us being there, and I do not like that part at all. Given all of the conversations that happened the last 24 hours, and where things were at, this was the right decision. I know it’s the right decision. I just don’t like having to do it a week before an event when teams were counting on us somewhere else.”
UNI had been contacted by the tournament organizers last week after Texas A&M pulled out over concerns about the high rate of COVID-19 infections in South Dakota.
Jacobson originally turned down the offer.
“I told them no, that we had given our word to Nebraska,” Jacobson said.
But in a season with uncertainty ahead, Jacobson knew there was some certainty in Sioux Falls.
It’s going to be a difficult nonconference schedule for the Panthers, who only have one home game currently scheduled. They play at Richmond on Dec. 9 before playing host to Green Bay three days later. UNI also plays at Wisconsin on Dec. 15 and at Marshall Dec. 19.
Jacobson said he wants two more home games, likely against non-Division I opponents.
Jacobson said the team plans to take charter flights to Richmond and Marshall, and will take a bus to South Dakota and Wisconsin, to help reduce any possible exposure to the virus.
Photo of UNI coach Ben Jacobson courtesy of UNI Athletics Media Relations.