When I found out that the Big Ten Tournament and several other conference tournaments were cancelled yesterday, I knew. I knew we were on our way to a March without college basketball. I knew the season was officially over, and that it would only be a matter of hours until Mark Emmert, the President of the NCAA, announced that the NCAA Tournament would be cancelled as well. And around 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, that’s exactly what happened.
The NCAA has canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and March Madness.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 12, 2020
The NCAA Tournament is my favorite time of the year. Specifically, the first weekend. Regular season basketball is great. If I could get paid to watch college basketball every day, I would be all for it. If I could just sit around and watch Kent State play Akron in mid-January, or two SEC cellar-dwellars like Ole Miss and Vanderbilt square off in early February, I would take that job in a heartbeat.
But the first weekend of the tournament is special. Nobody’s bracket is burnt up quite yet. Everybody has a rooting interest in every single game, so our eyes are plastered to whatever screen we can find, hunting for updates. There are games constantly going from Thursday afternoon until Sunday evening, with only a 10 hour or so break each night to get some rest. It is better than Christmas. It is better than any three-day weekend. It’s the best weekend of the whole year.
I was crushed when I saw that the tournament was officially cancelled. My plans for this weekend included watching conference tournaments and nothing else. This would provide me a great appetizer for next weekend, when I would hole up in my apartment for four days and watch the NCAA Tournament every day all day, only leaving for food and maybe some fresh air in between games.
I also felt guilty for being upset. The tournament is not being cancelled to spite people or to ruin anyone’s fun. The NCAA and its various venues are losing close to a billion dollars by cancelling this tournament. If this was avoidable, it would have been avoided. But an infectious disease which we do not have a cure or adequate testing supplies for far supersedes my TV enjoyment. It goes above any amount of potential profit the NCAA could have made, or the boost to the local economies that playing games would provide across the country.
On Wednesday night, Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg left the Huskers’ game with just over four minutes to go and went back to the locker room. Nebraska was getting thumped by the Indiana Hoosiers in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, and their season was coming to a close. Hoiberg was sweating profusely with his head between his hands, and needed to be checked out by the team doctor. He was hospitalized that evening and tested for COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus. His team was held in the arena after the game to be tested as well. Hoiberg’s test came back negative. Their head coach had the flu. Everyone was fine.
Fred Hoiberg who is coaching the game while fighting an illness just left the court with several minutes remaining in the game. Hope he’s ok. pic.twitter.com/hBwjl9dQ31— Chris Hassel (@Hassel_Chris) March 12, 2020
But what if Hoiberg had tested positive? He could have infected his own team, family, and anyone else at the Big Ten Tournament he had come in contact with. His players then came in contact with Indiana’s whole team for two hours on the court, sweating and grabbing at each other like players tend to do in a basketball game. This could have put Indiana at risk as well. Not to mention the locker rooms, showers, and benches these players used would be used for the next four days by 12 other teams. Don’t you see the potential for disaster?
Besides being upset because I can’t watch games this month, my heart aches for so many college basketball players and their families whose journeys were ended prematurely today. So many amazing men and women who wanted one last chance to win a championship, but were stopped not by another team, but by a virus. A virus that, in most cities, have shown very few confirmed cases.
My heart hurts for Michigan State’s Cassius Winston, who lost his brother Zachary in the fall by suicide. In Cassius’ final game of the season versus Ohio State, he warmed up in his late brother’s Albion College warmup shirt, where Zachary used to play. Every game before tipoff, Winston would go through he and Zachary’s secret handshake they had, dapping up the brother who was watching over him all season long. His illustrious career as a Spartan was coming to a close, but it wasn’t supposed to be over yet. Cassius and his family deserved one more tournament.
Cassius Winston in an Albion shirt as he warms up for his final game at the Breslin Center pic.twitter.com/lOQYjDZHYH— Matt Charboneau (@mattcharboneau) March 8, 2020
It kills me to see the Dayton Flyers not get an opportunity to play for a national championship. They went 29-2, won the Atlantic-10 conference, rose to No. 2 in the country, and would have gotten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Obi Toppin should be the National Player of the Year when that award is announced. He will all but certainly leave for the NBA now, leaving Dayton considerably weaker next year. The Flyers deserved a chance to show America that they were the best team in the country, because they very well may have been.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights, a perennial doormat in the Big Ten, woke up this year. With a record of 19-11 (11-9 in Big Ten play), they were on the cusp of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. That’s twenty-nine years since they’d last made the tournament, yet Rutgers sold out every single home game in the RAC this year, where they went 17-1. Steve Pikiell has revived Rutgers basketball. We all wanted to see Geo Baker in the NCAA Tournament. Rutgers deserved a chance to dance, but that 29-year streak will carry on for for at least one more year.
There are so many stories like these from this past season, it’s impossible to list them all. Myles Powell was sensational at Seton Hall for four years, and broke down in tears during his senior night ceremony.
Myles Powell: "I heard the crowd start cheering & it caught up to me"— Chris McManus (@ChrisSHUhoops) March 5, 2020
"I just want to say thank you to everybody. My family, friends, fans, you guys. It was a pleasure. I just wish we were having a different conversation. I’m built for adversity, this definitely wont break me" pic.twitter.com/P4OjnD5iBd
Nate Sestina transferred from Bucknell to Kentucky for his final year of eligibility, leaving the Patriot League and joining a perennial SEC powerhouse. He had one year to experience the NCAA Tournament. One year to have a real chance to win a national championship, and that’s gone.
Jon Teske, also known as “The Big Sleep” in Ann Arbor, could barely get any words out during his senior night speech in front of the Michigan faithful.
These guys really love the schools they’re playing at, the friends they’ve made, and the coaches who have become such an important part of their lives as they’ve grown up. Most of these players entered their programs as 17 or 18-year old boys and leave as 22 or 23-year old men. Their coaches were like fathers to them and their teammates became brothers.
They say once you’re in, you’ve got a chance. Anything can happen in March as long as you get there. But for so many, that last chance dissipated yesterday. And it’s tough to watch.
I was having a hard time processing my feelings about this, and thought I’d put them down here. I’m pretty upset right now about what’s happened, but I know I’d feel much worse if these same young men my heart hurts for right now contracted a virus that could possibly kill them.
The NCAA did what had to be done. It sucks. It isn’t fair. But it had to be done.