CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois men’s basketball team still intends to play on Thanksgiving Day.
Who the Illini will actually play, though, is now the question after Wright State announced Friday afternoon it would pull out of the Champaign-based multi-team event set to run next Wednesday through next Friday at State Farm Center.
The Raiders’ program is on pause after a combination of COVID-19 positive cases, contact tracing and injuries left Centennial graduate and former Illinois graduate assistant Scott Nagy’s team without enough players.
Wright State, which was set to play Illinois at 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day in addition to games against North Carolina A&T and Ohio, will, of course, not be traveling to Champaign this coming week.
“As we have seen this summer and fall with professional sports and college football, disruption is likely while competing in a pandemic,” Wright State athletic director Bob Grant said in an official statement. “We must continue to hold the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches and staff as our top priority as we navigate through this current athletic landscape.”
Wright State’s decision to pull out of the Illinois MTE came exactly one week after the Illini “finalized” their nonconference schedule.
That could be the state of the entire schedule given the ongoing pandemic continues to rage across the country, although the Big Ten has built in multiple collapsible byes in January and February if games need to be rescheduled.
Multiple other events, though, have lost teams throughout the past several weeks while finding others as replacements.
An entire slate of proposed MTEs in an Orlando bubble was even canceled by ESPN after agreements couldn’t be made across the board by teams on COVID-19 protocols. Wright State’s decision, of course, means Illinois is back in the hunt to fill what is now one of two open slots on its 2020-21 schedule. The Illini also have an open date on Dec. 5.
“We are currently exploring options to fill the opening in our multi-team event with the goal of continuing the four-team format as scheduled,” an official statement from Illinois read on Friday afternoon. “We will share more information once we have a finalized contract.”
Illinois is still set to open the 2020-21 season at 1 p.m. next Wednesday against North Carolina A&T in a rematch of sorts. The Illini beat the Aggies 95-64 last December at State Farm Center.
Illinois is also scheduled to play Ohio at noon next Friday, which is the Illini’s first game against the Bobcats since a Mark Smith-led 84-54 victory on Dec. 26, 1980, in Champaign.