NCAA

Barlow not losing focus after giving Butler win

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Barlow not losing focus after giving Butler win

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Butler guard Alex Barlow expected Monday morning's practice to be routine.

On the court, it was. Off the court, it was nowhere close.

Three players, including Barlow, were doing phone interviews. A couple of others were being pulled aside to talk to the reporters. Coach Brad Stevens sat patiently in the stands answering questions, all of this indicating that America's NCAA tournament darlings were back on the map.

``To me, it's kind of weird watching yourself on TV,'' said Barlow, the 5-foot-11 walk-on who hit the winning shot in Saturday's 88-86 overtime win over No. 1 Indiana. ``It's kind of crazy to hear how people have misspoken some of our names or call me a former college baseball player.''

There's no mistaking how Barlow and the Bulldogs got back here. The little school from Indianapolis is again beating college basketball's big boys in ways nobody thought possible.

On Saturday, it was Barlow who emerged as the unlikeliest star.

The sophomore from football powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller came to Butler to get a firsthand lesson in Basketball Coaching 101 from Stevens. He turned down multiple scholarship offers to play baseball, what many including his father thought was his best sport, and had scored just 12 points in nine games this season and 18 in his college career.

But with 6 seconds left in overtime, the wispy-looking guard slowly walked toward the lane, backed down Hoosiers guard Jordan Hulls toward the basket, then suddenly spun around and let loose a 6-foot jumper that hit the back of the rim and finally rattled in for the lead with less than 3 seconds to play. Barlow finished with six points, all in overtime. A career high.

What nearly got lost in the celebration, though, was that Barlow also came up with one of the key defensive plays of the game - a steal that led to Chase Stigall's 3-pointer, giving Butler an 86-84 lead that allowed the Bulldogs to dictate the rest of the game.

Those who know Barlow weren't nearly as surprised as the Hoosiers (9-1) or the national television audience.

``He's pretty measured in his words and he won't take any grief. He's a tough guy,'' Stevens said. ``His high school coach (Carl Kremer) said he was similar to another Moeller kid we had, Mike Monserez, in competitiveness and will, and I think he (Monserez) was one of the all-time greats we've had here. So I told Carl if he (Barlow) wants to be here, it's automatic that he can walk on.'''

Barlow did consider two other schools, Clemson and Arizona State, but knew Butler was the right place for him after just one visit.

Now he will go down as the latest little-known Butler star to emerge on the national stage.

The group includes Joel Cornette, who traded shoes with another player after chasing a loose ball and running into a water cooler during Butler's 2003 NCAA tournament run to the regional semifinals; Darnell Archey, the 3-point specialist who set the NCAA record for most consecutive free throws and is on Stevens' staff; A.J. Graves, the MVP of the 2006 NIT Season Tip-Off, who had never been to New York City before that tournament; Gordon Hayward, who led Butler to the 2010 title game and just missed making a buzzer-beating half-court heave that would have beaten Duke for the title; and Matt Howard, the strong inside presence who was the key to Butler's back-to-back runs to the title game.

Now there's Barlow.

``We went out to Applebee's after the game and he was on the phone the whole time. We started calling him big shot,'' shooting guard Rotnei Clarke said, laughing. ``It was fun messing with him because he gets a little sensitive about it.''

The Bulldogs (8-2) should be getting used to this after the two tourney runs in 2010 and 2011 and now they're back at it, winning the Butler Way.

At last month's Maui Invitational, Clarke hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to knock off Marquette. The next night, Butler steamrolled North Carolina. On Dec. 8, they won at Northwestern, and then the Bulldogs pulled the biggest upset of the early season by taking down their fourth BCS-conference school of the season, Indiana, for the first win over a No. 1 team in school history.

``I was praying it would go in because looked like it was coming out to the right,'' said Clarke, who played in some big games at Arkansas but never beat a top-ranked team until transferring to Butler.

The voters have taken notice, too.

Just hours after the Bulldogs wrapped up their morning practice, Butler debuted at No. 19 in this week's Top 25. The only losses this season have to No. 10 Illinois in Maui and at Xavier.

Stevens is not as impressed as some of the outsiders, especially with what he saw against Indiana.

``My biggest thing is that we didn't play perfect,'' he said. ``So we put together a what-if video, a video of about 15 plays that if they had gone the other way, we wouldn't be as happy today.''

Or as busy dealing with all those outside influences that have become more commonplace when the Bulldogs beat the big boys.

Not that Barlow or his teammates mind, since they know it's time to get back to reality.

``It's been crazy, I've gotten a lot of texts and phone messages and social media stuff, but I don't get too caught up in that stuff,'' Barlow said. ``The coaches do tell us all the time that we can beat anyone on any given day, but they also tell us we can get beaten on any given night. I'm not going to say we expected to win (against Indiana), but it was not a surprise to us.''

NCAA president Mark Emmert says fall champions can't happen at this time

NCAA president Mark Emmert says fall champions can't happen at this time

While conferences and schools across the nation are withdrawing from the 2020 fall sports season due to the coronavirus pandemic, others remain adamant that games and seasons can be played.

However, for those who are planning on having a fall campaign, their hopes of competing for a championship could still be derailed. According to NCAA president Mark Emmert, all Division I sports besides football --- which operates on the bowl schedule -- are in jeopardy of losing a title season due to the lack of teams involved.

“We cannot, now at this point, have fall NCAA Championships because there’s not enough schools participating," Emmert said during the NCAA Social Series on Thursday. "The Board of Governors also said, ‘look if you don’t have half the schools playing the sport you can’t have a legitimate championship.’”

Emmert noted that the fall can still be beneficial to universities as programs can put all their focus into safety protocols and maintaining the health of players. Additionally, players can still remain on campus and prepare for the spring season.

As for actual competition in the coming months, Emmert has begun to look ahead to 2021 with the hope that teams have the opportunity to compete when the spring comes around. Specifically, he wants to make sure that winter and spring sports -- who already lost a season in 2020 -- are not forced to suffer through the same fate again.

In order to do that, he's considering numerous altercations to sports such as modified bubbles and smaller brackets for postseason play. The procedures will become clearer in the coming months as more questions about the virus and its impact are answered.

For now, Emmert is optimistic that the NCAA has the capability to bring sports back in a safe way. But to do so, a lot of work still needs to be done.

“There’s a way to do it. Will it be normal? Of course not, you’ll be playing fall sports in the spring. Will it create other challenges? Of course. But is it doable? Yeah, it is doable and we want to do that," Emmert said. "We want to, again, make it work for these students.”

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Will there be high school sports in the DMV this fall amid coronavirus concerns?

Will there be high school sports in the DMV this fall amid coronavirus concerns?

No area of society has gone untouched by the novel coronavirus pandemic, including sports. After every level of athletics was rocked by the virus and forced to shut down in the spring, professional leagues have figured out ways to return to their fields of play in as safe a manner as possible. Meanwhile, decisions are still being made on the collegiate, high school and youth levels about when and how sports will return.

In our Playing Through COVID series, NBC Sports Washington will tell the story of those decisions and how they impact the people involved, including athletes, coaches, parents and more. The series launched with an interview of Dr. Sunil Budhrani, ER Physician, CEO and Chief Medical Officer at Innovation Health. Watch the full interview here.

As the 2020-21 school year approaches in the DMV, answers of whether sports will accompany it in the fall have slowly trickled in.

And thus far, the answer is overwhelmingly no. 

Washington, D.C. and Virginia have both announced plans to adopt a Condensed Interscholastic Plan, which would push the start of winter sports back to a tentative Dec. 14 start date and have what are traditionally fall sports follow in February. Maryland announced plans to postpone fall and winter sports during the first semester, which ends Jan. 27.

Current calendar plans announced for the resumption of sports are listed below:

DC

Winter season (basketball, indoor track and field, cheerleading)

First practice date: December 14 -- Game dates: January 4 to February 28 

Fall season (cross-country, football, soccer and volleyball)

First practice date: February 1 -- Game dates: February 22 to April 16 

Spring season (baseball, softball, tennis, track and field, ultimate disc, chess)

First practice date: March 29 -- Game dates: April 19 to June 13

Virginia

Winter season (basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, swim/dive, wrestling)

First practice date: December 14 -- Game dates: December 28 to February 20

Fall season (cheer, cross country, field hockey, football, golf, volleyball)

First practice date: February 15 -- Game dates: March 1 to May 1

Spring season (baseball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field)

First practice date: April 12 -- Game dates: April 26 to June 26

Maryland

TBD

Present in each region's announcement of a postponement was mention of a collaboration with local health officials in determining those plans. District of Columbia State Athletic Association executive director Clark Ray reiterated that point on a town hall hosted by NBC Sports Washington’s Chad Ricardo on July 17.

“Based on the information that we had, based on our conversations with our department of health, and based on input from the public schools, the public charter schools, the private schools and all of those who represent the multiple conferences of our private schools, this was an easy decision to make but an agonizing decision to send out,” Ray said. “It’s the right decision at this time based on the current science and data that we have.”

Virginia High School League executive director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun echoed how difficult the decision was during a virtual press conference on July 27, though Virginia’s plan left open the possibility for sports to return sooner than outlined if the state moves beyond Phase III in its recovery plan. Or if guidelines for Phase III are revised to allow high-risk activities.

“This has been an extremely difficult decision,” Haun said. “All of you know how important high school activities are to our student athletes, to our coaches, to our parents, just our school communities. This was not a decision that was made lightly. Everybody took this very seriously. I think it’s safe to say in our office and probably with the executive committee, there have been very few of us that have had a full nights’ sleep in a long time just thinking about all the implications here that are involved.”

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Those same implications are part of the reason why decisions on fall sports were delayed until recently across the state of Maryland.

Rather than enforce a statewide decision on athletics, Maryland initially left the decision on how to proceed this fall to each individual school system, of which there are 24. The state set a minimum set of guidelines, but each local system had the authority to be more restrictive based on local circumstances in regards to the virus. It’s a path that left many in limbo but that Maryland governor Larry Hogan said was consistent with how the state made other decisions.

“The state sets some parameters, but people were not wanting us to interfere with those local decisions,” Hogan said at his press conference on Maryland’s COVID-19 recovery July 22. “County governments have always had their individual authorities to make decisions that are more restrictive than what we’ve done, not less restrictive. They can’t ignore state law. But our plans always incorporated the flexibility of local governments.”

That autonomy resulted in varying decisions across Maryland’s local school systems. While most never announced a decision before Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Assoication finally made an overarching decision last Monday, others had postponed fall sports, and Montgomery County canceled fall and winter sports altogether. The variation in decisons wasn't much different than the current NCAA football scene where some conferences have already postponed sports, while others are holding out hope for a season.

Montgomery County superintendent Dr. Jack R. Smith said the decision to cancel was devastating.

“It’s not just sports programs. It’s all of our extracurricular and cocurricular programs that are so important to our students,” Smith said on a virtual recovery plan media briefing July 22. “And we understand that this is devastating, and we’re gonna continue to look at how we can support students through the digital world or whatever other strategies that people may be able to come up with. I’ve seen some examples of this that are really tremendous, and we’re going to continue to push hard to make sure that we can do whatever we can do in this very important part of a student’s educational experience.”

Montgomery's decision at the time likely spoke to a larger concern in coronavirus trends cited by Hogan. While Montgomery’s positivity rate was down 90% from a high of 32.64% on April 20 to 3.27%, Hogan said there was concern that the positivity rate for Marylanders under 35 years (6.57%) old was higher than it was for those 35 or older (3.50%). And while it has dropped significantly since peaking, it has recently seen a slight uptick. Additionally, there had been a slight uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state and, according to Hogan, some of those were younger patients.

These were the types of numbers being considered across D.C., Maryland and Virginia when deciding whether schools should move to a virtual-only format this fall. Most have decided they will, but some will open at full capacity, while others are going with a hybrid approach. Those decisions had a direct influence on what local jurisdictions decided in regards to how to proceed with sports. MPSSAA cited as much in its announcement to postpone sports.

"This decision comes in light of the recent announcements of local school systems to begin education virtually and provides each school system with options for the gradual increase of student engagement for the physical and social-emotional health of students," the statement read.

MPSSAA said it's finalizing plans for modified competition seasons for all sports in the second semester and will make those plans available at some point prior to the start of the school year, which is Aug. 31.

Private schools in the region aren’t beholden to the same rules enforced by the public governing bodies, but many of them are going in the same direction.

The Interstate Athletic Conference, Independent School League and Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference all announced the postponement of sports until January. The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference said it is canceling fall athletics but exploring scheduling options for a January start.

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