I have no issue with taking precautionary measures, even erroring on the side of over-reaction to prevent Covid-19 from spreading and taking any more lives. There is no greater concern than the protection of human life. Even the wildest sports fanatic couldn’t argue that fact.
Postponing the NBA, NHL and MLB seasons is absolutely the right decision. If they chop off a few games, nobody will really notice. Taking care of those workers who rely on those games for their income is hopefully something all three leagues will take into consideration. Suspend, postpone, take a break and allow the most medically advanced country in the world get a handle on this pandemic. I have all the confidence in the world that is exactly what will happen. We have been here before.
The NCAA, with its winter sports heading into their championship tournaments, decided just days ago to hold them as planned, but with limited or no spectators. It felt like an appropriate and reasonable response. Then like a table filled with dominos, the decision by a few conferences was made to cancel their post-season tournaments. Cancel, not postpone, not wait, choosing instead to end seasons and players careers with a few strikes of the keyboard. Finally, as those of us with NCAA athletes held our collective breath, the NCAA delivered the death blow and canceled not only the pending winter tournaments, but the entire spring sports season.
I was stunned, shocked and saddened. My question is why? Why such a leap? Why so little faith in our ability to get this under control quickly? Why not follow suit and postpone?
What was the possible downside of postponing everything and letting things play out for even a week? The vast majority of those involved are one sport athletes, so it isn’t like it was going to affect their next season. Scheduling or facility usage wouldn’t seem to be an issue as all of the winter sports head into their off-season. The very athletes they have penalized spend each season juggling their crammed schedules; it would have been a nice gesture in return by the NCAA to find a way to make this work. What could possibly be the harm in waiting? If things don’t improve, then the same decision could still be made and those of us affected would be able to better understand the logic. This decision was not a government mandate, but it was an unnecessary over-reach on the part of the NCAA.
I am certain every parent, player, coach and fan would have rather seen the games played to empty arenas, than canceled altogether. It offered the NCAA yet another solution that would fit into the general guidelines being recommended of keeping gatherings small and controlled. I can still go to my beer league hockey game or YMCA basketball league with athletes of all shapes, sizes and physical condition, but we can’t bring together highly trained and cared for athletes, in a controlled environment, to compete for a title they have worked toward for most of their life?
It is times like these that I wish I were a lawyer or somebody with enough clout to get the NCAA to see their decision was rash and should be quickly reconsidered. I wish every athlete and coach impacted by this decision could show up at the NCAA offices in Indianapolis and demand a waiting period or at least an explanation.
Those who have not been in the athletic arena as a coach or player will likely think I am the one that is over-reacting. And if I was simply proposing that we just play through it, rub some dirt on it and ignore the danger of Covid-19, you would be absolutely right. That is not what I am suggesting. There were safe and reasonable alternative solutions that were dismissed almost as quickly as they were proposed. We went from alternative playing solutions to season over in less than forty-eight hours.
The NCAA death penalty just handed down to winter and spring athletes feels much like death to those left standing in their arenas wondering how this could have happened. I guarantee you most will process through the five stages of grief to come to grips with the decision. For those winter athletes that were closing in on that elusive national championship dream, the pain will be unbearable. It is real pain that will be acerbated by the fact that they had no say in how it ended.
I find it ironic that some of the most important building blocks of elite athletes are the perseverance to conquer obstacles, the patience to trust the process of their development and the mental toughness to adapt to unpredictable circumstances. These athletes demonstrate these character traits and many others on a daily basis. They sacrifice normal college student life and perform for all of us, and the NCAA revels in the profits they so unselfishly make possible. Yet when the time came for the NCAA to find a solution for them, a way to keep their dream alive, they turned their back on them by rushing to a decision that likely could have been avoided.
Many are suggesting that loss of revenue is the underlying factor of this hasty decision. It is not much of a reach for me to believe that is indeed possible. As we all know too well, where there is obscene financial gain there is often corruption. Money can buy most anything, but I guess in the case of the NCAA it couldn’t buy more time.
Every season must come to an end, but none should end like this. This swift and severe decision was cruel and could have rationally been postponed and potentially avoided. Time will tell if the NCAA made a good or bad decision.
Sadly, buying time was also the potential solution.
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org