Geno Auriemma agrees with his Baylor University counterpart Kim Mulkey that the reason the college basketball season will continue during the COVID-19 pandemic is money.
But the “almighty dollar,” as Mulkey called it, that comes from the NCAA men’s tournament pays for a lot of things as the UConn coach was quick to point out Monday. His third-ranked Huskies play for the first time in 10 days tonight when they host Big East foe Butler at Gampel Pavilion.
“Kim has some strong opinions on things,” Auriemma said. I think if you ask anybody, I don’t think anything she said is completely off the charts wrong. However, having said that, I don’t know if there is any coach in the country who would say, ‘If you give back your entire salary for this year then we’ll be even.’ So the almighty dollar has a lot to do with what we are doing.
“Without the men’s tournament, there are a lot of things that happen in the NCAA that don’t happen. There are a lot of championships, mainly all of them, that wouldn’t be held if it wasn’t for the men’s basketball tournament. That’s the reality.”
The 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled a week before it was scheduled to begin last March.
Mulkey tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 4 and that forced the cancellation of Baylor’s home game with UConn scheduled for Jan. 7. She returned to the Bears sidelines Saturday when Iowa State ended their 61-game home winning streak.
The three-time national champion admitted she felt uncomfortable coaching. Of course, she and her program have an option - opting out. Vanderbilt became the third Power 5 school - joining Duke and Virginia - to do so Monday.
Auriemma believes players want to play.
“Except for a few minor instances, you ask them and 100 percent of them are going to say, ‘I want to play,’ ” Auriemma said. “Is it fair or unfair? Fair or unfair has nothing to do with it. If you ask the players, they’re going to tell you, ‘I want to play.’ And those players that don’t want to play don’t have to play. And those coaches that don’t want to coach don’t have to coach.
“But the reality of the situation is if we don’t have a men’s basketball tournament for two years in a row, then a lot of things you’re used to having, we’re not going to have. It’s not like the women’s tournament is going to go out there and make enough money to pay for anything. Maybe it’s easier if you’re at a Power 5 football school and you’re making millions and millions and millions of dollars. That’s great. But 90 percent of the schools in America are not in that situation. So it is about the money. That’s just the reality of it.”
SAYLOR ON BOARD
Saylor Poffenbarger is on the UConn campus, bringing with her a negative test result for COVID-19, and has started her 10-day quarantine. If the schedule stays as it is, she’ll be able to begin working out with the Huskies in the days leading up to their game at DePaul on Jan. 31.
The 6-foot-2 guard from Middletown, Maryland completed requirements to graduate high school earlier this month and took advantage of the NCAA blanket waiver to enroll at UConn early. She’ll retain four years of eligibility starting in 2021-22.
“Certainly a lot of things had to fall into place,” Auriemma said. “Shea (assistant coach Ralph) spent a lot of time with all the logistics of it. There was a lot of work done on this end, as well, to make sure we have all the protocols in place and getting her registered for all of her courses.
“What are the expectations for her? I don’t know. I don’t know where Saylor is at this point not having played competitive basketball for awhile. It’s not like she’s been working out with her team and playing in games and can just pick up where she left off. I think it’s going to be a little more difficult than that.”
Poffenbarger led Middletown High to a 25-1 record and the Maryland 2A state tournament semifinals a season ago before play was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. She spent a good portion of her offseason rehabilitating from hip surgery.
Auriemma is confident the 17-year-old will adjust to college life and the college game well.
“For me it’s going to be just wait and see, an opportunity to throw her in there and let her practice,” Auriemma said. “Maybe she gets in a game and maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she contributes and maybe she doesn’t. I don’t know. I think all that remains to be seen. But being out on the court and practicing, those are things that are beneficial.
“So do I think Saylor is mature enough to handle this? Yeah. Am I positive 100 percent? I don’t know. My guess is she’s going to handle it great.”
Auriemma said he has not been part of any discussions about extending UConn’s series with Tennessee beyond this year. The Huskies and No. 25 Lady Vols complete a two-game deal Thursday at Thompson-Boling Arena … Freshman Aaliyah Edwards got her first start against Providence on Jan. 9 in place of Anna Makurat and UConn started slowly. Will there be a change back tonight? “I don’t know that I’m sold one way or another on any starting lineup other than the obvious four,” Auriemma said.