College sports have been cancelled until further notice.
The NCAA on Thursday afternoon announced it not only will be canceling this year’s men’s and women’s March Madness basketball tournaments, but that it will also be shutting down championships for the remaining winter sports and all spring sports. The cancellations were made amid concerns of spreading the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.
According to a statement posted on the NCAA’s website, “Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships. This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.”
Many people who contract COVID-19 experience mild symptoms of coughing, fever and shortness of breath similar to the flu. However, it is an extremely contagious virus that can be especially deadly to people over age 60 or who have underlying health conditions. Epidemiologists have said slowing its spread is critical to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed and keep the death count low.
In addition to taking the D-I basketball tournament off the table, the NCAA’s decision will mean no banners raised in 11 spring sports. It means no 2020 College World Series in baseball nor softball, no indoor or outdoor track championships and no gymnastics championships. It derails a potential title run for BYU’s No. 1-ranked men’s volleyball team, a chance to compete on the national stage for Utah Valley wrestlers and a possible trip to NIT Tournament for the Utes’ men’s basketball team.
“I gathered them today and told them and it was a hard hit,” Utah gymnastics coach Tom Farden said of his undefeated team, which is ranked No. 4 in the nation. “There were a lot of tears and broken hearts.”
The news broke one day before the Red Rocks’ regular season finale against Utah State on Friday in the Huntsman Center. The team was left without an opportunity to honor its two senior leaders, Kim Tessen and Missy Reinstadtler.
“It’s just devastating,” Farden said Thursday. “I feel terrible for our seniors Kim and Missy that they won’t be able to compete for their senior night. I am extremely humbled by the amount of support we have received from Red Rock nation this year. We had a young team but they proved they were one to reckon with."
Similarly, the cancellation of March Madness went right to the heart of the Utah State and BYU men’s basketball teams. Both were slated to receive a bid during Selection Sunday this weekend thanks to a heaping of senior leadership.
Utah State, which upset then-No. 5 San Diego State in the MWC Tournament championship Saturday to clinch an automatic bid to the Big Dance, will send off point guard Abel Porter and shooting guard Sam Merrill. Merrill, the two-time MWC Tournament MVP, will leave as the No. 2 all-time scorer in both school and conference history. Ranked No. 14 in the latest AP Top 25 poll, the Cougars, meanwhile, will graduate seven seniors. Among them are stars Yoeli Childs and TJ Haws, both all-West Coast Conference first-team selections, and Jake Toolson, the WCC Newcomer of the Year.
BYU coach Mark Pope said he broke the news to his team during a practice Thursday and “it was a locker room full of tears and shock and utter silence. Probably the longest silence I’ve been in.
“It’s excruciating for those guys and it’s hard for us. That’s our experience right now,” Pope added. “If I could control everything in the world, we would find some way to have this tournament because my heart is just broken for these kids.”
When the NCAA’s decision to pull the plug on March Madness came Thursday afternoon, it wasn’t unexpected.
Both Duke and Kansas, the top-ranked men’s basketball team in the nation, announced earlier in the day restrictions on travel for all their athletics teams, which was expected to include to the tournament. The move also came in the wake of the ACC, Big 12, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Western Athletic Conference on Thursday joining 22 D-I leagues in canceling the remainder of their respective basketball tournaments in the face of COVID-19 fears. The Pac-12′s announcement came just under three hours before No. 1 seed Oregon and No. 8 seed Oregon State were set to play in the first of four quarterfinals in Las Vegas.
Several conferences then took the move one step further early Thursday afternoon. The Pac-12, the Mountain West Conference, the WCC and the WAC, among others, suspended all sports competitions until further notice.
The University of Utah, which is a member of the Pac-12; Utah State, which competes in the MWC, and UVU, which is part of the WAC, all released statements indicating they would be canceling athletic events for the foreseeable future.
“All scheduled University of Utah athletics competitions — conference or non-conference, home or away — have been canceled, effective immediately, until further notice,” the Utah statement said. The school’s “COVID-19 Central” web page instructed that all large, university-sponsored gathering be postponed through April 29. The school’s commencement ceremony is scheduled for April 30.
It was unclear late Thursday if that means Utah’s spring football practice, and the Utes’ pro day, scheduled for March 26, has also been cancelled.
BYU earlier in the day announced its athletic teams could continue to practice without fans or media in attendance. But later Thursday the school suspended all athletic events, “Effective immediately." That means not only a freeze on the school’s No. 1-ranked men’s volleyball team, but also a halt to the Cougars’ spring football practice. The WCC issued a statement saying all formal and organized practices for spring sports were canceled.
Utah State spring football practice and other spring sports are also suspended, through at least March 17, according to a statement from the school.
Thanks to an allowance in the MWC’s policy, the USU men’s basketball team would have been allowed to participate in the NCAA Tournament, had it not been axed. That’s now a moot point. Questions remain about whether the NCAA will grant an extra year of eligibility to seniors who had their championships or their entire final season disrupted by COVID-19. Until those are answered, though, USU’s tear through the MWC Tournament will have to serve as the Aggies’ “One Shining Moment” this season.
“Not how it was supposed to end,” sophomore Justin Bean posted on Twitter, “but I’m glad we went out on TOP."
By postponing the tournament, which has been held annually since 1939, the NCAA leaves a deserted sports landscape. The NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS have all announced they will postpone play indefinitely.
That drastic outcome unfolded quickly.
On Wednesday, the Pac-12 played two first-round games of its conference tournament during the day, including Utah’s 71-69 loss to the Beavers. It then announced between sessions that Thursday’s games would be played with essential personnel only at T-Mobile — following the lead of an announcement that the NCAA’s tournaments would be closed to fans. The two-game night session went off Wednesday evening without a hitch.
Then late Wednesday, the NBA postponed its season after Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. That set off a chain reaction, with the other pro sports leagues swiftly following suit. By Thursday morning, college basketball conferences that a day earlier had decided to hold games in empty arenas changed course and began canceling their tournaments altogether. So dramatic was the decision that the Big East shut down its tournament during halftime of its first quarterfinal game, with St. John’s leading Creighton 34-29.
“Sure does seem whole world turned upside down in about 24 hours, doesn’t it?” BYU’s Pope said. “The speed in which this gained momentum is pretty extraordinary for all of us.”