I could be wrong — that’s happened a time or two — but I can’t imagine the NCAA will go much longer without announcing its tournament has been canceled, or at least postponed. Another thought that occurred overnight: CBS and TBS are still set to air 12 days of college basketball, all of them to be played before intimate gatherings of family and friends. Forget public health for a second. From a TV perspective, how awful would that look and sound? Entire sections of empty seats. Arenas so quiet you could hear the sneakers squeaking. And would bands be allowed? Would cheerleaders and dance teams?
After Georgia beat Ole Miss in the first of this SEC tournament’s two completed games, coach Tom Crean and players Rayshuan Hammonds and Jordan Harris took the postgame dais. They were asked about the conference’s decision to bar fans, which had just been announced. “First we’ve heard of it,” Crean said. A bit later, he said, “We’ll just treat (the never-to-be-played Round 2 against Florida) the way we would a controlled scrimmage.”
Even been to a controlled scrimmage? It’s essentially a spirited practice. Who’d want to play three weeks’ worth of those, even with the prospect of being handed a trophy at the end? What’s the point of being handed a trophy if almost nobody’s there to see it?
Is canceling the NCAA tournament fair to the players who’d invested so much in this season? No, but how fair would it be if they were made to keep playing and wound up in quarantine, as happened with the NBA’s Utah Jazz on Wednesday night? We say again: Nobody knows where COVID-19 is headed. The only thing that has seemed to slow it is by doing as China did, which was essentially to shut down half of a massive nation. (Italy has shut down its entire nation.)
Shutting down doesn’t mean continuing with regularly scheduled tournaments. It defies belief that MLB allowed exhibition games to continue, but there’s a reason MLB is the stupidest of all sports. Finally, Thursday afternoon MLB stopped playing and delayed Opening Day two weeks. MLS has stopped playing. The NHL too. Apologies for requoting my physician friend – he’s Dr. Stan Dysart, prince of Marietta – but here it is: “This country needs to shut down for the next two months.”
Once more, with feeling: WE CANNOT GET THIS WRONG. As Tennessee coach Rick Barnes told the Tennessean after the SEC canceled itself: “If we would have gone out to play today, we would really be hoping we were lucky that nothing would happen.” That’s no way to conduct business. That’s no way to safeguard those in your care. Against the coronavirus, crossed fingers aren’t a viable stratagem.
We now await the NCAA’s next move, which seems inevitable. We have far bigger concerns right now. And what kind of Big Dance would it be if pep bands don’t get to play?