Yesterday morning, I and two other Daily Campus representatives were scheduled to fly down to the famed City That Never Sleeps, a.k.a. Fort Worth, Texas, for UConn’s final appearance in the American Athletic Conference tournament.
It was a trip I’ve been looking forward to for months. Hours of work and stress were put into the planning process. After UConn’s exhilarating win on Senior Night, I was just thrilled that it wouldn’t be my last time covering the team, that I could see the season to its end.
But on Tuesday afternoon, not even 24 hours before we were supposed to leave, we were informed that the trip had been cancelled due to COVID-19.
In the moment, glancing back and forth between the dreaded email and my packed suitcase, I was furious. I couldn’t understand how this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had been taken from us without anything we could do. Why was our trip prohibited because of a virus that none of the three of us are particularly endangered by?
However, after letting that initial anger fade, outrage eventually turned to resigned disappointment. As much as I detested the decision, it was the right one. The necessary one.
In the past few days, I’ve seen similar outrage from sports fans everywhere. When the NCAA made the inevitable but nonetheless stunning announcement yesterday that all March Madness games — men’s and women’s — would be played without fans, the reaction was vicious. As the list of fan-less events grows, the backlash has seemingly far outweighed the support.
Among the most passionate responses was the decision to cancel all remaining CIAC winter tournaments, ending many Connecticut high school sports seasons without a proper championship. High schoolers across the state protested the decision on Wednesday, and an online petition has over 90,000 signatures.
“No sports no school.” Many are yelling “come out” at the CIAC office. pic.twitter.com/JlfdZBBG8R
— Shawn McFarland (@McFarland_Shawn) March 11, 2020
The coronavirus’s impact on sports is really only beginning — I mean, in the time it took to write this column, the NCAA, MLS, Ivy League, Hockey East and several other ruling bodies all made major announcements.
But here’s the thing: Just like with my own cancelled plans (and for the record, my friends and I were also planning on attending a first-round game of the NCAA tournament), I hope the public reaction gradually shifts from shock and anger to level-headed understanding.
I’m no expert on the matter, but according to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus outbreak is officially a global pandemic. Although it might not pose immediate danger to me or my fellow Daily Campus members, it certainly can afflict people we come into contact with.
So yes, my heart absolutely breaks for the Ivy League athletes (with other conferences likely to follow) who will not have spring seasons. For a senior to grind for three years only to be robbed of a senior season at the last minute is immensely brutal.
The Ivy League Presidents are announcing their unanimous decision to cancel all spring athletics practice and competition through the remainder of the academic year amid further developments in the outbreak of COVID-19.
— The Ivy League (@IvyLeague) March 11, 2020
I agree with the argument that, whenever possible, sporting events should proceed without fans, instead of canceling them altogether. The NCAA already has and the NBA suspended the season. If only the athletes and essential personnel are present, the risk of spreading is far reduced.
But an event like CIACs, where you have a ton of people from different areas congregating in one place, is different than 20 people from two locations on a basketball court. Cancelling the games takes away the risk altogether, and perhaps that’s a saddening but necessary way forward at the moment.
I also agree with the criticism that many of the people making these cancellation decisions are not fully aware of the consequences. Dismissing these tournaments and seasons as, “Oh, they’re just sports,” is unfair to those who have worked so hard their entire lives to get to this moment.
But at the end of the day, that’s exactly what they are: sports. And in an unprecedented crisis like this, sports must necessarily come second. College athletes, no matter how badly they want to play in front of a packed stadium — or play at all — must recognize that risking lives over a basketball game simply isn’t worth it.
These decisions do come across as “reactionary,” sure. But they’re justly reacting to something we don’t fully understand yet, except for that it’s highly dangerous to a large portion of the population. If you want to be angry at something beyond our control, be angry at the virus, not these unavoidable decisions.
In the wise words of the Tampa Bay Lightning social media team, “We don’t have any words and we know you don’t want to hear them. We understand your anger, your frustration, your sadness. Everything you’re feeling — we get it. This isn’t the ending we imagined, and certainly not the one we wanted.”
I’m as bummed as anyone at the prospect of watching March Madness games in empty arenas, but there’s (hopefully) always next year. I feel awful for the high school and college seniors who had their careers cut short. But in the near future, we’ll look back on these difficult decisions as the correct ones.