published Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Mocs get a sick day

UTC-Western Carolina game postponed after flu decimates team

Western Carolina is showing the Mocs some love by agreeing to postpone Thursday's basketball game until Valentine's Day.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga would have had only five healthy and eligible players tonight to compete against the Catamounts if the game was played as scheduled tonight.

"I appreciate Western Carolina and the SoCon, who always preach about 'student-welfare' and they walk the walk," UTC coach John Shulman said. "I guess we could have gone over there with five guys, but that wouldn't have been the best situation for anybody, especially us."

Four UTC players have tested positive for influenza and been quarantined for 48 hours which is the main cause of the delay. One UTC player has a shoulder injury, and another is suspended. The rest of the roster is redshirting.

"We took our flu-shots, we took care of our business," Shulman said. "But they said it's going around real bad."

Administrators from UTC, Western Carolina, Appalachian State -- the Mocs' Saturday opponent --and the Southern Conference held a teleconference late Wednesday to discuss the current situation and possible future scenarios.

"For the integrity of the sport, the importance of the game, the welfare of those five student-athletes, we're not going to force somebody to play a game with only five players," SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said. "Western said they could go with a double-header on Monday, and neither team plays again until Wednesday and that's UTC at Georgia Tech. Western's next game is Thursday."

Finding a date was the paramount discussion, and Iamarino said he never considered forfeiture.

They agreed the game should be played Monday after UTC visits App State on Saturday, even though it means WCU will now play five games in nine days. The parties generally agreed that a minimum of seven healthy players are necessary for a game.

A forfeit by UTC was never discussed.

"I don't think that's good for the integrity of the game, I don't think that's good for the conference, and I don't think that's good sportsmanship," WCU athletics director Chip Smith told the Asheville Citizen-Times. "It's like, what do we need to do to make this work?"

UTC representatives including athletics director Rick Hart and John Shulman expressed gratitude toward Smith and Catamounts coach Larry Hunter for their decision. WCU could have played UTC's situation into their favor considering the Cats (11-13, 7-5 SoCon) are in second place of the North Division behind the Mocs (14-11, 10-3).

"I appreciate the willingness of Western Carolina to work with us and they don't have to do that," Hart said. "I don't know how many schools would respond in the same way. This is going to place them in a different place, a difficult place, competitively. But I can't thank them enough."

UTC senior center Jeremy Saffore was the first player to test positive for influenza. He did so Tuesday which had Shulman thinking he'd have eight players to face the Cats. By switching around a few players and tweaking schemes, he thought UTC could go and compete with WCU. But he also noticed that Omar Wattad didn't feel well before Tuesday's practice and Keegan Bell became ill during practice.

So the entire team was tested for influenza.

Wattad, Bell, and Jeff Smith all tested positive and were quarantined for period of at least 48 hours.

But after the quarantine is lifted, that does not necessarily mean doctors will clear a player to compete. Symptoms take a toll which may also put UTC's game at App State on Saturday in question if nobody recovers in time for UTC's scheduled game at ASU on Saturday at 2 p.m.

"It's going to be hard to flip everything for Appalachian State and do so without any practice," said Shulman, who sent Troy Cage, Jahmal Burroughs, Ricky Taylor and the redshirts home after 20 minutes of shooting on Wednesday. "A 48-hour quarantine doesn't mean they're healthy. Just means they're not contagious. We'll try out best to be prepared."

UTC will have Chris Early available to face the Mountaineers. He was suspended for one game due to an ejection after a flagrant foul Saturday at Davidson. Shulman said all parties agreed Early should sit out the WCU game, as originally planned, regardless of when it's played.

"He won't play against Western," Shulman said. "Goes to show we're not trying to pull anything."



Follow David Uchiyama on Twitter by following this link.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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February 10, 2011 at 12:46 a.m.
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