Monday, September 14, 2020

Tigers Tested, Sweet Lou, and the NBA

Posted By on Mon, Sep 14, 2020 at 8:13 AM

The coronavirus, college football, and math. You can choose two, but you can't have all three.

The average reproductive number for coronavirus infection — the number of people a person carrying the virus infects — is between 2 and 3. Some carriers of the virus won't infect anyone they encounter, but some will infect more than 10. It's the nastiest "bug" in recent human history, precisely because it's so easy to share but so hard to detect.

Take this math and apply it to a college football game. Two programs on a field, each with a minimum of 100 people sharing a sideline. The idea of one of those teams playing as many as eight games this fall and keeping that reproductive number at zero is really bad math. It's ludicrous. The Memphis Tigers and the program's followers learned this after but one game, their season-opening beating of Arkansas State. With multiple members of the program testing positive for COVID-19 (as announced last Friday), the Tigers' next game — scheduled for this Friday against Houston at the Liberty Bowl — has been postponed. At least.

So pandemic football comes down to the frequency of COVID tests within each program, and how those tests are reported. Were Tiger players and staff infected with the virus during their game against the Red Wolves (six days before the positives were announced)? Arkansas State played its game at Kansas State last Saturday, but several players on the depth chart were sidelined. And there was plenty of finger-pointing — toward the A-State program — over social media throughout the weekend. It stands to reason, if I understand contact tracing, that if one team had infected players during a football game, the opposing roster would be compromised (as potential carriers) a week later. It's ugly math if you're a football fan. And no game on your favorite schedule should be written in ink.
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• For the third time in eight seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals are wearing a patch commemorating the life of a legendary player, one whose statue stands in front of Busch Stadium. The greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan Musial, died in 2013. Five years later, Red Schoendienst joined his former roommate in that great clubhouse in the sky. Then on September 6th, Lou Brock passed away at age 81. It seems especially cruel that a man whose number 20 has been retired by the Cardinals for more than 40 years was taken from us in the already-plenty-dreadful year 2020.

Brock's 3,000th hit (in August 1979) is my earliest distinct memory of the Cardinals. I got the chance to meet Mr. Brock twice — once at Tim McCarver Stadium and once at AutoZone Park — and both times he treated me like I was the first fan he'd ever met. Like fellow Hall of Famers Musial and Schoendienst, Brock was somehow better at being a human being than he was at playing baseball. He also happens to have been one of the most competitive men to ever set foot on a diamond. (Brock is the only player Sandy Koufax acknowledges having hit with a pitch on purpose. Brock was that disruptive upon reaching base.) The world needs more Lou Brocks. I'm grateful we had him as long as we did.

• Nine months into the most unpredictable year of our lives, it's nice have the NBA playoffs nearing completion. When it comes to the NBA Finals, what you expect is typically what you get. Since the turn of the century, only three teams seeded lower than third have reached the Finals. And all three — the 2006 Mavericks, the 2010 Celtics, and the 2018 Cavaliers — lost the championship series. The fifth-seeded Miami Heat could become the fourth "surprise" entry if Jimmy Butler and friends can knock off the third-seeded Boston Celtics. More than likely, the de facto Finals will be played in the Western Conference, where we could see a "Battle for L.A." (unless the Denver Nuggets crash the party): both the Lakers' LeBron James and Clippers' Kawhi Leonard are aiming to lead a third franchise to a title. The NBA doesn't exactly welcome Cinderella to its dance, but a clash of familiar champions — even in new uniforms — might be just the right vitamin for a 2020 sports fan.

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