UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma said Monday that he thinks the vast majority of college basketball players do not want the season shut down because of COVID-19 concerns, and also responded to Baylor coach Kim Mulkey's comments Saturday about the NCAA being driven by "the almighty dollar."
"Talking to coaches around the country. Almost nobody gets infected by playing basketball," Auriemma said on a Zoom call. "I think the number of people that contract COVID by playing against somebody, it's been like almost zero. Everything that's happened has happened off the court.
"So you mean to tell me these players wouldn't be getting COVID? Matter of fact, coaches are getting COVID at home. If you ask these players, 'Do you want to play, or do you not want to play?' except for a few minor instances, ask the players and 100% of them are gonna say, 'I want to play.'"
UConn and Baylor were scheduled to play Jan. 7 in Waco, Texas, in one of the premiere nonconference matchups of the season. But the game was canceled after Baylor went on a pause on Jan. 5 because Mulkey had tested positive for COVID-19.
Mulkey had also missed Baylor's Jan. 2 game at TCU, and didn't return to the sidelines until Saturday's loss to Iowa State. After that game, when asked whether she thought concerns with the virus might prevent the season from finishing, Mulkey asked whether a "politically correct answer" or a real answer was wanted.
"The answer is this: The season will continue on. It's called the almighty dollar," Mulkey said. "The NCAA has to have the almighty dollar from the men's tournament. The almighty dollar is more important than the health and welfare of me, the players or anybody else.
"One conference does this, one conference does that. The CDC says this. Everybody is confused. I'm confused. I'm uncomfortable coaching. I understand, COVID is real. I've had it, come talk to me sometime. But I don't know ... all the calls and procedures, that's gonna go on and make it unusual, uncomfortable for every program. We're no different at Baylor."
Auriemma, asked to comment on that said, "You know, Kim has some strong opinions on things. And I think if we asked anybody, I don't know that anything that she said was completely off the charts wrong.
"However, having said that ... the almighty dollar has a lot to do with what we are doing. And without the men's NCAA tournament, there's a lot of things that happen in the NCAA that don't happen. There's a lot of championships -- mainly all of them -- that wouldn't be held, if it wasn't for the men's basketball tournament."
Auriemma also said players and coaches who don't want to take part in this season for safety reasons can choose not to participate.
"But the reality of the situation is, if we don't have a men's basketball tournament for two years in a row, then a lot of things that we are used to having, you're not going to have," Auriemma said. "Because it's not like the women's tournament is going to go out there and make enough money to pay for anything. We're gonna make some money, but not enough to survive.
"And yeah, maybe it's easy if you're at a Power 5 football school, and you're making millions and millions and millions of dollars, that's great. But 90% of the schools in America are not in that situation. So, it is about the money. That's just the reality of it."
UConn has won the NCAA championship 11 times and Baylor has won three times. Auriemma and Mulkey are among the top-paid women's basketball coaches in the country, with both earning more than $2 million per year.