You can take every precaution possible. You can mandate masks, handwashing and social-distancing measures, following to the letter the how-to posters almost certainly lining the walls inside locker rooms, bathrooms and athletic facilities.
You can put your players in an on-campus hotel, securing another layer of protection. You can even avoid hotels altogether, commuting daily to and from your conference tournament to further isolate yourself from any possible issues.
You can abide to the coronavirus protocols and then some, avoiding the outbreaks that have plagued your conference rivals, and come within strides of the finish line before being stopped in your tracks by COVID-19.
It’s something to keep in mind with Selection Sunday around the corner.
After making it this far without missing a game or halting team activities due to COVID-19 issues inside the program, Duke’s season is over after at least one positive case knocked the Blue Devils out of an ACC tournament quarterfinal against Florida State on Thursday.
“This will end our 2020-21 season,” Duke athletics director Kevin White said in a statement. “We wish every team still playing college basketball good health and the very best during the next few weeks.”
The case comes with the Blue Devils on a two-game winning streak and potentially in a late-season surge, aiming to avoid missing the tournament for the first time since 1995. Instead, Duke’s year is upended by an opponent that has ravaged the regular season and may do the same to college basketball’s postseason.
“We are disappointed we cannot keep fighting together as a group after two outstanding days in Greensboro,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
BRACKETOLOGY: Duke probably out; Syracuse inches closer to bid
The outbreak should send shivers down the spine of every coach, player and program in tournament contention, who will march to the national championship in early April inside the environment created by the NCAA to support this year’s tournament. That includes playing all games in the Indianapolis area, with teams sequestered in their hotels when not playing or practicing.
Consider how Duke’s positive case may impact Louisville, which lost to the Blue Devils on Wednesday night and is hoping for an at-large bid to the tournament field. While awaiting the selection committee’s decision, the Cardinals have another issue of concern: Will the team meet the requirement of seven straight days of negative COVID-19 tests to be able to participate in the tournament?
Most of all, the situation with Duke should be a reminder for the NCAA that this year’s bracket is in extreme danger of being upended by one or more coronavirus outbreaks at the most inopportune time.
The tournament model isn’t built in the vein of the NBA, which sequestered all players, coaches, background staffers and media to complete the 2019-20 season.
The soft bubble created by the NCAA will help programs socially distance — for example, Michigan will be able to spend every moment in the hotel, on the bus or in an arena, athletics director Warde Manuel said this week — but won’t overwrite the fact that teams will be sharing space and air with opponents and fans inside a city, Indianapolis, that recently eased local COVID-19 restrictions.
Duke’s untimely outbreak shows how teams in this year’s tournament can be eliminated in two ways: on the court and off.
Follow columnist Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg