A lament for March Madness

Profile Picture: Andrew Champagne

March 12th, 2020

I was really excited to submit my column full of Vegas tips and tricks last week. At the time, I was planning for my seventh annual sojourn to Sin City for the first week of the NCAA basketball tournament. The plan was to meet up with my dad and scream at oversized televisions.

What a difference a few days makes.

Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, the NCAA has cancelled the tournament. As such, the Vegas trip is likely off, and I’ll probably wind up spending my vacation eating frozen pizza and guzzling water from my couch in Northern California. The cancellation came after one of the most eventful days in recent sports history, which included NBA star Rudy Gobert testing positive for the virus and Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg trying to power through what wound up being a cold (but looked far worse during the team’s Big Ten Tournament game against Indiana).

Earlier on Wednesday, I tweeted something foolish. The Ivy League had announced the cancellation of all spring sports, and I found that absurd. Certainly playing the games without audiences was a possibility, right? These student-athletes deserved that much after busting their butts both on the field and in the classroom. That held doubly true for many of the league’s lacrosse teams, which are some of the best squads in the country and ones that would have had legitimate chances at the national championship.

The events that followed couldn’t have been predicted, but after seeing the hysteria following Gobert’s positive test, I realized how wrong I was. That was just as much about the players involved as it was the fans who would be watching them play. The coronavirus is not a death sentence to most, but it is particularly harmful to those with pre-existing conditions, and the possibility of one player spreading it to a team (either his/her own squad or their opponents) is daunting.

I can’t say I’m happy about needing to skip the traditional Vegas trip. It’s beyond frustrating. At their cores, sports are diversions from everyday life. We look to them as escapes from the trials and tribulations of the real world, and that’s driven home with authority when they’re not around.

We won’t have a "One Shining Moment" montage, or student sections from a No. 14 seed going bonkers late in a first-round game against a petrified No. 3 seed that thought all it had to do was show up. NBA fans won’t be dazzled by the precocity of Zion Williamson, or the freakish athleticism of Giannis Antetokounmpo, or a 35-year-old LeBron James putting up MVP-level stats every night.

As analysts from around the sports world pointed out, we’re in uncharted territory here. The coronavirus is touching every aspect of our day-to-day lives, and I wish I wasn’t writing about it.

I wish I could tell you what ACC team would use the conference tournament as a springboard to bigger things in the Big Dance.

I wish I could see if the sleepers I pointed out a few weeks ago make runs by knocking off a few perennial powers.

I wish I could be in Vegas with my dad.

Stay healthy, everyone. Wash your hands, don’t go to work if you’re sick, and enjoy the diversions whenever they happen to pop up. Don’t wait until they’re not around to appreciate them for the value they bring.

The NCAA Tournament may be canceled, but there are still plenty of others sports to wager on at BetAmerica.