Kansas City, MO. – Well, it happened. The 2020 Phillip’s 66 Men’s Big 12 Conference Tournament has officially been canceled. Over the course of the last 48 hours, the coronavirus has induced enough concern and fear that the Big 12, as well as 12 other conferences, canceled the tournament Thursday morning.
From early in the week, you could tell that this tournament would be handled differently because of the virus that is spreading across the world. Wednesday afternoon it was announced that the World Health Organization was declaring the virus a global pandemic (it was at this point I personally committed to not finishing my reading of Stephen King’s The Stand) and from that announcement the sports world saw a massive spread of concern.
Sports, especially collegiate, have always been a shining light during dark times in society. Think about the last time you watched a feel-good video of a player’s dreams coming true, or think about major sporting events happening after a tragedy. In the wake of the global tragedy that is this virus, combined with the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant; college basketball tournaments were supposed to bring that light.
All fans, and mostly players, have now is sadness, fear and disappointment. From the start of the tournament, many wondered what this virus would do to college sports and the impending NCAA Tournament. By midday Wednesday, everyone had their answer. The NCAA announced mere hours before the Big 12 conference tipped off that this year’s tournament would be played without fans in attendance.
It was at this point that college basketball fans took to social media, and many began to speculate as to how this would affect the Big 12 tournament. Soon, it would be announced that Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby would be restricting fan attendance for both men’s and women’s games starting Thursday. The announcement occurred about an hour prior to the in-arena announcement; which by that time fans knew from social media and were angry.
Fans were down, dejected, frustrated and mostly hurt that the decision to limit the games to fan-free was announced at a time that made it too late for fans to cancel and rearrange their schedules and potentially not make the trek to Missouri for games they could not attend.
The announcement brought many profanity-laced cheers and jeers Wednesday night (albeit “Higgins has coronavirus in his eyeballs” did make me laugh) but nothing would compare to the dejectedness that would come Thursday morning as the entire conference tournament was canceled.
Thursday brought not only the cancellation of the Big 12 conference tournament but the eventual cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament. With the conference tournament being canceled late morning on Thursday, the atmosphere in Kansas City went from jubilation to sadness, confusion and a mild sense of urgency to pack up, check out and rearrange your flight schedule. From the lobby of the team/media hotel it was obvious no one knew quite how to react to this.
Before West Virginia even had a chance to avenge the Oklahoma Sooners for those horrendous games in February, Thursday’s quarterfinal game was gone. For those three seniors, the silver lining is that last home game victory, ending a career in the Old Gold and Blue with “Country Roads” one last time.
As I left the hotel and made my way back to the airport, far too soon for the amount of clothes and luggage I had packed, I couldn’t help but wonder what the next few weeks and months will bring players, coaches and sports fans around the country (and the world) will bring. While it was far too short of a trip to Kansas City to be leaving, especially without even having a chance to win, there’s comfort in the fact that player and fan safety is a top priority and that everyone affiliated with the tournament was thought of instead of revenue, money and risking health concerns.
But damn. No March Madness? This does suck.