Three major NCAA Tournaments -- men's basketball, women's basketball, and wrestling -- were set to get underway a week from today. Their future seemed in jeopardy as the COVID-19 crisis continued to escalate earlier in the week, especially when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared it a global pandemic. The spread of this virus has thrown the entire world into disarray and our tiny little corner of that larger world (Hawkeye sports) has not been immune to the changes wrought by the virus. The men's basketball Big Ten Tournament was canceled earlier today and now the other, bigger shoe has dropped: the NCAA Tournament is canceled for 2020 as well.
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.
The headline entities there are obviously the Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments, but the cancellation applies to all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships, which includes track and field, softball, baseball, and, yes, wrestling. Effective immediately, the 2019-20 college sports season is over.
Obviously, this sucks. The reason you all are here reading any of the nonsense we post is because you love college sports -- particularly Iowa college sports. The only reason we write the nonsense we do is because we also love college sports. And there's little we love more than March Madness. The third weekend of March is, in my estimation, the greatest sporting weekend on the entire calendar. The first weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, including 16 games apiece on Thursday and Friday. The first weekend of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament as well, also jam-packed with great games. And the entire NCAA Wrestling Tournament, three days of incredible action and drama as athletes compete for one of the highest of honors, a national championship. Brackets. Buzzer-beaters. Upsets. It's all awesome.
But as much as it sucks to lose all of that -- to lose March Madness -- it's also unquestionably the right move now. The COVID-19 crisis is real and large gatherings of people, especially large gatherings featuring people traveling from around the country (and world) to mingle with one another, would only help this virus spread more rapidly and cause more harm. It would, frankly, be incredibly reckless and irresponsible to hold major sporting events right now and invite crowds of thousands to attend.
The piece below is a excellent explanation of the COVID-19 crisis and its seriousness. I'd encourage you to read it if you're not sure what COVID-19 is all about and why health organizations are treating the spread of this virus as such a critical situation.
With the number of known #coronavirus cases today in South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, Spain and the US, Wuhan was already in lockdown.— Tomas Pueyo (@tomaspueyo) March 10, 2020
Read why every day we wait to make decisions is costlier thats the previous:https://t.co/6hX74wiZgF
Given the lack of a vaccine and the terrible inadequacy of testing capabilities in the United States right now, the best way to slow the spread of the virus is social distancing and discouraging assemblies of large gatherings of people.
I had held out a sliver of hope that the NCAA Tournaments could perhaps be postponed, rather than canceled outright -- perhaps to May. But the logistics behind such a move would have been challenging in the extreme, no doubt. And we have no idea what the next several weeks will hold in terms of the spread of this virus and its impact.
My heart breaks for the college athletes who have practiced and competed for so many weeks, months, and years and given so much of their time, energy, and attention to a sport, all for the dream of competing in an NCAA Tournament. My heart breaks for Ryan Kriener and Bakari Evelyn, seniors whose careers are now suddenly over. My heart breaks for Luka Garza, in the midst of perhaps the greatest season ever for an Iowa men's basketball player, a season that's now done. My heart breaks for everyone else on that Iowa men's basketball team, who had put together a tremendous regular season against one of the most difficult schedules an Iowa team had faced in recent memory and were getting ready to take on the NCAA Tournament. Most of those players should be back next year, but who's to say what next season will hold? Nothing is guaranteed, sadly.
My heart breaks for Kathleen Doyle, Makenzie Meyer, and Amanda Ollinger, a trio of seniors who refused to let Iowa women's basketball slide through a ho-hum rebuilding season despite the departure of the program's greatest-ever player. They played the best basketball of their Iowa lives and carried Iowa to 23 wins, a 3rd place finish in the Big Ten, and a likely Top 4 seed in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament next week. They had a fantastic season and were poised to possibly send Iowa women's basketball to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row... and now the season is done.
And my heart breaks for the Iowa wrestling team. A team loaded with talent through all 10 weights and motivated by an intense drive to end Iowa's 10-year drought between national championships. This was an incredibly fun and likable Iowa team, with exciting wrestlers up and down the lineup, and a team of guys who enjoyed the success of their teammates as much (and maybe more) than their own. My heart breaks for Spencer Lee, bidding for his third-straight national championship, and in the midst of one of the greatest seasons an Iowa wrestler has ever had. My heart breaks for Pat Lugo, a senior whose steady improvement had seen him become the #1 seed at 149 lbs and given him a very real chance to become a national champion. My heart breaks for Alex Marinelli and Michael Kemerer, outstanding wrestlers seeking their first-ever national championships and in better position than ever to do so. And my heart breaks for every other wrestler on the team -- Austin DeSanto, Max Murin, Kaleb Young, Abe Assad, Jacob Warner, and Tony Cassioppi -- who won't get a chance to live out their dreams at the NCAA Tournament, vying for individual titles and hoping to contribute to a team championship.
March Madness is my favorite time of year. I look forward to that third weekend of March and the accompanying bonanza of college sports action on display, more than any other time of the year on the sports calendar. It is going to feel very weird and very empty this time next week when none of those events are happening. But ultimately they're just sports. Sports are a wonderful and welcome distraction. But they are not necessary. Public health is necessary and as painful and sad as it is to see NCAA Tournaments go by the wayside this year, it's the correct decision to protect the health and safety of the public.
See you in a while, sports.