Barber: Kicking and screaming, NCAA cancels March Madness
The NCAA finally released its death grip on the money at 1:16 p.m. Thursday. That’s when the governing body of American college sports tweeted a statement from its president, Mark Emmert, declaring that the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, along with other winter and spring college championships, are hereby canceled.
It was the right decision. And it took a team of piano movers, straining with all their might to pull Emmert’s hand away from that suitcase full of dough, to make it happen.
I sympathize with the NCAA and other sports entities, I really do. They are not charitable organizations. They exist primarily to make money. And though most of that money never manages to find its way past the top few tiers at the top, the business of sports does employ a lot of Americans — as equipment managers and locker-room attendants, vendors and security guards, PR staff and ticket sellers, all of it.
So no, it couldn’t have been easy for the NBA and NHL and Major League Soccer, all currently steaming toward the playoffs, to suspend their seasons, or for Major League Baseball to cancel the rest of spring training and delay opening day. And it could not have been easy for the NCAA to clear its sports calendar.
The organization’s big loss, of course, is the men’s basketball tournament. The NCAA makes close to $1 billion from March Madness these days, a massive TV-and-arena windfall that pays for … well, mostly for the salaries and bonuses of NCAA executives, college officials, tournament organizers, athletic directors and high-profile coaches, but you get the point.
As the dominoes began to fall Thursday, it became increasingly obvious that there won’t be even One Shining Moment this year.
We’re not talking about small dominoes, either. This was not the soothing clatter of a Rube Goldberg device. It was a set of sequoia-sized dominoes toppling onto one another, and the speed at which they fell was dizzying.
Take the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament as an example. At 4:17 p.m. Wednesday, the conference announced that the tourney would proceed as planned, but (basically) with warmer water and more Purell in the arena. At 5:53 p.m. that day, with games in progress, the Pac-12 abruptly changed gears and said no fans would be allowed to attend subsequent games. At 9:17 a.m. Thursday, it canceled the tournament altogether.
The news was breaking faster than you could follow it.
The cascade of cancellations among major sporting events and festivals and conventions, the closing of amusement parks and university campuses, it all started to feel like panic Wednesday and Thursday, and that’s how some ideologues attempted to frame it. (If you don’t know who Clay Travis is, I envy you.) But this was the opposite of a panic.
I don’t pretend to be deeply educated in the field of public health, but everything I’ve read from researchers and health officials has painted a similar picture. If you are reasonably young and reasonably healthy, there’s little chance COVID-19 will kill you. But anyone can get it, and anyone can pass it along to more vulnerable people.
The only reasonable course of action is to discourage people from assembling in large crowds for a while. As a vox.com article put it, “A disastrous inundation of hospitals can likely be averted with protective measures we’re now seeing more of — closing schools, canceling mass gatherings, working from home, self-quarantine, self-isolation, avoiding crowds — to keep the virus from spreading fast.”