Posted on March 15, 2020
Every year since 1939, the NCAA has hosted the proverbial “Big Dance.” It unites the nation, evoking heartbreak, joy, and passion, capped off by a legacy-defining weekend of the Final Four. There isn’t anything else like it on the planet. The games transcend society, permeating every aspect of the culture. Even non-sports fans know about “March Madness.”
But despite its stature and significance to athletes, coaches, and fans alike, the decision by the NCAA to cancel was made in a relatively short time, with limited public deliberation. Without question, the spread of COVID-19* has to be contained before any realistic timeline could be formulated. But assuming the medical professionals get a handle on the virus, it seems plausible that the three-week tournament could have been rescheduled.
Initially, an alternative of some sort was where the NCAA seemed to be headed. The organizing body first announced that the games would be held in empty arenas, only to renege a few days later, prematurely ending not only the college basketball season, but all other winter and spring sports.
It was a draconian act, and if it isn’t ultimately reversed, it could linger as a stain on the NCAA’s legacy. The devastating effect generates the obvious question:
Why not postpone it indefinitely, and see what happens?
Instead, the NCAA chose the easy route, making what some view as a lazy decision. Worse, they didn’t seem to exert much effort in formulating an alternative.
Granted, as reported by the Associated Press, organizers considered a few other possibilities, including a condensed 16-team event to be played over one long weekend.
“We did spend a significant amount of time very late Wednesday night (March 11) trying to figure out alternative models,” NCAA vice president of men’s basketball Dan Gavitt told AP, calling it “one of the only reasonable options.”
However, there were concerns that 16 teams would not be inclusive enough, and then an NBA player became infected, prompting the NCAA to drop the idea, canceling the tournament altogether.
That seems sensible enough, but a simple postponement could have bought everyone more time. With careful planning, a broad coalition of rational leaders could have coordinated a plan with the universities, pro teams, venues, and broadcast partners for a mid-summer tournament.
Representatives from the NBA could have been asked to take part, coordinating their draft procedures with the new timeline. The heads of every conference, and their corresponding university presidents, could have been asked to come together to determine a timeline for their respective tournaments, essentially pushing everything back to a later date.
If the neutral court venues weren’t available, the higher seed in each game could have hosted the matchup. The NCAA could have negotiated an increase in the funds distributed to the schools, helping to cover the additional unforeseen venue or travel costs.
But, alas, that prospect took a hit when USA Today‘s Steve Berkowitz reported on Saturday that the reserve fund the NCAA set up 15 years ago for just this sort of thing, an accrued $400 million, had been spent in 2014, most of it to settle a lawsuit.
Whatever alternative solution the NCAA and its partners might have come up with would surely have entailed a long, negotiated process, one that could have taken weeks. But it might just have born fruit in the end.
The clichéd adage, “When there’s a will, there’s a way,” seems to aptly describe the faint hopes of college basketball fans everywhere. Nobody wants the season to end like this.
Who knows? Once the virus subsides, perhaps pressure could be put on the governing body to reconsider and find a solution. The most powerful advocates could end up being CBS and Turner, the media companies who own the broadcast rights.
Maybe, just maybe, the commissioners of each conference will come together with the media executives and work out a deal with the NCAA.
We can only hope.
*COVID-19, more commonly referred to as the “Coronavirus,” is a viral infection that causes mild to severe respiratory illness, fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, according to the Center for Disease Control. It spreads through the air when people cough or sneeze, and symptoms usually appear within 2-14 days after exposure.
Most people with Coronavirus develop mild symptoms and recover, but individuals with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and older adults in general are at higher risk of death.
Best way to prevent its spread:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay at home when you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then immediately throw the tissue in the trash
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
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