• 84°

Ken’s Column: Welcome to March Sadness

Thursday, March 19, was supposed to be the first day of competition of arguably the most exciting sporting event in America: the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, also known as “March Madness”.

However, this year, there will be no NCAA Tournament due to the spread of the corona virus, which, so far, has infected over 10,000 people in the U.S. and has killed 150. Those figures are from the CDC’s website www.cdc.gov.

Yes I know, the actual tournament starts on the previous Tuesday and Wednesday with the “play-in games”, but since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the real excitement traditionally begins on Thursday and Friday. On those days, there is literally wall-to-wall basketball from approximately 12:15 p.m. Eastern Standard Time all the way to midnight. Sports bars are crowded all day long during those two days. Fans skip work so that they can either go watch their favorite teams play in person, if their city is hosting one of the preliminary rounds, or they are glued to a television set, either at a sports bar or at home, all the way until midnight EST or even 1.a.m. in some instances.

The NCAA Tournament began back in 1939 and it has taken place every year since then, even during World War II, but for the first time ever, the tournament will not take place this year due to concerns over the spread of the corona virus.

This tournament, along with several other college and professional sporting events in our country, has been cancelled as a precaution to keep the athletes safe. That is more than understandable being that at least seven NBA players, including Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, have tested positive for this highly contagious disease.

I feel terrible for these student-athletes who were hoping to shine in this annual iconic event, as well as the student athletes who were to compete in the NCAA Division II, III and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) men’s and women’s national basketball tournaments.

A week ago, I was in Sioux City, IA to watch my alma mater’s women’s basketball team compete in the NAIA Division II Women’s National Tournament. Fortunately for the Bryan College Lady Lions (my alma mater’s team), they were able to play their first-round game and they won. However, after the first day of competition, the NAIA decided to cancel both its men’s and women’s Division I and II tournaments.

Imagine the student-athletes that came from all over the country to compete for a national championship. For some, it was a once in a lifetime event. Sadly, the opportunity to reap the rewards of their hard work during the regular season was snuffed out. Some teams, like the Rheinhardt University’s women’s team, didn’t even get to play their first-round game even though they had qualified for the national tournament.

In the NAIA Division II men’s national tournament in Sioux Falls, SD, the whole tournament was cancelled right in the middle of an on-going game. They didn’t even allow the two teams to finish that game.

I can understand postponing these events for a month or so due to the present circumstances, but not only have all intercollegiate winter sports been cancelled, all colleges, from major NCAA Division I universities all the way down to the junior colleges, have cancelled all of their spring sports as well.

What if the disease subsides drastically in the next month and things get back to normal? Was there a need to cancel baseball, softball, track & field and other spring sports? In the case of March Madness, couldn’t the NCAA just delay the start of their men’s and women’s basketball tournaments by a month? This is new territory for everybody, not just those involved in sports. I would think that the colleges and universities, along with the television networks, would be willing to work something out and, if necessary, compromise. The cancellations of March Madness and other sporting events will also take a heavy toll on the economies of the various communities where these events were supposed to be played. Restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions and those who work in public transportation will also be adversely affected.

I wish there was a way that the NCAA, the NAIA and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) could postpone their sporting events for 30 days. If by then the crisis has significantly subsided, they could then resume. At leas the athletes, coaches, fans and vendors would still realize all the rewards of their hard work throughout the year.

To their credit, the NJCAA originally intended to postpone their men’s and women’s national basketball tournaments until late April. This was after the NCAA and NAIA decided to cancel all of their winter and spring sports for the remainder of the year.

Our own South Georgia Technical College Lady Jets were scheduled to compete in the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in Lubbock, TX. However, I guess the NJCAA thought it would be best to follow suit with the other athletic organizations.

It’s a shame that they couldn’t all just take a “wait and see” attitude, like our local school districts are doing as far as school is concerned. But alas! What’s done is done. We will get through this crisis, but let’s hope we can learn from this and take measures to ensure that events such as March Madness won’t have to be cancelled in the future.

 

Ken Gustafson is the sports editor for the Americus Times-Recorder. To contact him, call 229-924-2751 or email him at Ken.gustafson@americustimesrecorder.com.