Opinion: Can’t Gonzaga and Michigan State play in a safer environment while still honoring the troops?

Playing a high-level non-conference basketball game on Veteran’s Day as a way to honor those who lost their lives in military service is objectively a good thing. It’s a bit performative, sure, but sports at it’s very core is entertainment – which makes it performative by nature.

So ESPN hosting the Armed Forces Classic, for the first time in two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is cause for celebration – even moreso with Mark Few and the Gonzaga Bulldogs taking on Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans in what should be a very fun early season game of hoops among two of the game’s premier programs.

If that was the end of the story, we wouldn’t have much else to say. But of course, it’s not enough to honor the military by naming the game after them – the game has to be played on an aircraft carrier, specifically the USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego:

Folks tend to be split about these gimmicky court games. Some love that the sport is trying to do something different, quirky, unique, and in this case out of tribute to the fallen.

Others – a lot who are Gonzaga fans – worry about the safety of the players and the quality of the play on the court after seeing how much different the game looks in a new setting.

Gonzaga fans are quite justified in their feelings after seeing the debacle that was their season opener against Pittsburgh in the 2015-2016 season, which also took place on an aircraft carrier (in Japan no less) and was cancelled at halftime due to safety concerns for the players.

While the Zags won’t have to travel halfway across the world in this instance, there is still concern among many that this could cause injury to the student-athletes on the court, which is devastating no matter the situation but would be particularly tough to swallow if it happened so early in the year.

Even if injury doesn’t end up being an issue, the game itself is likely going to be a bit of a slog – if the past is any indication. Playing outside in an entirely new situation, one not designed for the sole purpose of basketball, creates an environment that is not conducive to knocking down shots.

It’s not inherently unfair – it won’t be the reason either team wins or loses – but those who love the purity of the sport (or, you know, like watching the ball go through the net) are understandably weary of this upcoming game.

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