Jeff Neubauer has not seen his Fordham men’s basketball team in five months. Mid March, the Rams won their opening round Atlantic-10 Conference tournament game against George Washington at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Hours later, and with the coronavirus pandemic signals getting worse, A-10 officials along with the NCAA put a halt to March Madness The NCAA conference tournaments were cancelled.
Two days later, Neubauer said goodbye to his team. The Rose Hill campus at Fordham was closed and off limits to students, personnel. All athletic facilities closed.
“Controlling this what we can control,” Neubauer said Thursday from his home in Yonkers. “Haven’t been in the office in months. Our staff encouraged to stay away from campus. There are some very strict protocols in place before our students return.”
Those protocols include a quarantine period. Daily and strict testing of COVID 19 are mandatory and procedures. Fordham invested a good amount of money to implement the testing procedures that are coming from an unknown and respected facility.
Bypass a fact, the Rams were playing good basketball when play was halted. In the end, safety was the priority, A-10 and NCAA officials saw the inevitable of a shutdown,
The Rams 72-52 win, was the final game contested on March 11. There was optimism about this Fordham team. In the next week, Fordham students, personnel and the student athletes will return to campus. Neubauer, five years at the helm, is hoping for a safe and good return of basketball up at Rose Hill.
So, at home and in between daily walks, Neubauer stayed in touch with his players via Zoom video calls. He has been in constant communication with A-10 officials, opposing coaches and watched plenty of film.
“I’m really proud the way our team played in Barclays,” he said. “We played a type of basketball we had all year but played a little bit better. Was really proud how we played. Last year, we did not win as much as we wanted to. We had an incredible competitive team.”
The Rams lost a lot of those one or two possession games. The overall 9-22 record, finishing last in the conference, though, does not reflect that result. Fordham was in almost every game and went away from utilizing the three-point play.
In the final year of a contract, and with rumors always that Neubauer is on thin ice, he pays no attention to the rumors. In all fairness, there is plenty of unfinished business and that begins with a hope for an eventual 2020-21 season up at Rose Hill.
And now there is anticipation to resume. Perhaps a A-10 schedule and season could be played in January.
Neubauer is not a medical authority. He admits knowledge about where the pandemic and unknown enemy of COVID is left to those in charge.
“I’m not a doctor,” he said. “Think a lot of people right now are voicing their opinion and not medically qualified to do that.”
However, there is that anticipation of resuming basketball operations. Neubauer, when he returns to his office at the Lombardi Center, will be limited as to what can be done. Limited time with players and safety protocols in place.
Fordham has invested in COVID testing machines. Coaches and administrators on campus have to test negative twice for two weeks as do those who attend classes.
And it will take time to meet and greet two new recruits that will be a part of a hopeful 2020-21 men’s basketball season. Though the A-10 has released a schedule, it comes down to NCAA decisions .
A decision also to play or not with a college football season in jeopardy, Major conferences have used the opt-out due to safety concerns. The Fordham football program saw their 2020 season cancelled as the Patriot League cited safety and well being of student-athletes, administrators, coaches, and staff.
“Been a different summer because college basketball has become a two month game ,” Neubauer said.
Normal situation, the NCAA provides summer workouts for the coaches and players in that two month period with workouts four or five times a week. New York, slowly getting back to some normalcy is still under those safety and proper protocols.
“We are in a unique situation up in New York,,” said Neubauer. “ If you give everyone a choice for a season this year, every player, every coach would choose to play.”
He added, from a health standpoint this is not the time to play an NCAA schedule. But there is that hope, perhaps a vaccine will come to fruition that will allow some type of normalcy.
“Everyone will do everything they can to at least have an NCAA tournament this year,” Neubauer said.
And for now it’s a waiting game. The health and safety for those involved as Fordham University and their men’ basketball program begins the process of getting back to normal with Phase 1.