About 90 minutes before tip-off, the call was made to cancel Tennessee-Memphis. A COVID situation on the Memphis side had come up, as two players reportedly tested positive on Saturday morning. That same report stated that Memphis was down to “four or five” available players, due to the COVID protocols for unvaccinated players.
However, during the preseason, Penny Hardaway estimated that about 90 percent of his roster had been vaccinated, meaning that per those numbers, the Tigers should have had plenty of bodies to play on Saturday — assuming those vaccinated players could produce a negative test.
On Sunday, Hardaway conveniently said he misspoke about the 90 percent estimate.
“I think initially when I talked to the guys earlier (in the preseason),” Hardaway said Sunday afternoon during a Zoom press conference, “they were all talking about being vaccinated and then I never visited it again. So I probably misspoke, when a lot of the guys were talking about it back then. I never even thought about it again after that.
“So I probably was quoted saying that,” he continued, “because I had talked to a lot of the guys about going into this season and what had been happening to us this past season going in. I probably just misspoke on that in that situation.” (Via 247Sports)
Memphis had 2 players test positive for COVID-19 yesterday and then other unvaccinated players had to sit-out. Memphis only had four players available to play.— Madison Blevins Hock (@Madison4Blevins) December 19, 2021
Earlier this season, head coach Penny Hardaway estimated 90% of his team was vaccinated.
Today, he said he "misspoke." pic.twitter.com/edPzAmArBc
With how big of a deal vaccination rates were entering this season for both football and basketball rosters, it’s hard to believe Penny simply never thought about it again.
The optics of the situation were made even worse after Emoni Bates was spotted taking pictures with fans around town after the cancelation. Hardaway also said that his team made a brief appearance at an alumni party on Friday night.
A disappointed Rick Barnes addressed the situation after the cancelation, citing the SEC’s forfeit rule put in place for this season.
“The unknown is about over for us,” Barnes said. “We have an SEC rule. You have to play or forfeit. There is no if, ands or buts about it. I have great respect for one of my former assistants, Rob Lanier. A couple weeks ago they got hit with the COVID and they had to go to Rhode Island and play. He took his team up there. It was a non-league game and he didn’t have to. He took his team up there with one starter, three rotational guys and everyone else was guys that hadn’t played. They played. I can assure you when the SEC rolls around, this problem happens, guys are going to find a way to play.”
Hardaway expressed interest in rescheduling the game for this year, but Barnes has already shot that down, citing Tennessee’s schedule from here. The Vols host Arizona on Wednesday, break for Christmas, and then open conference play on December 29th with Alabama. From there it’ll be two games a week until tournament season.
Memphis has already canceled their Tuesday game against Alabama State.
The question now becomes, will the Tennessee-Memphis series continue? Considering Hardaway’s ridiculous behavior following the 2018 matchup and now this, it doesn’t seem like the Tennessee side will have much interest.