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Conference USA cancels hoops tourneys

NCAA’s ‘March Madness’ also scratched due to coronavirus concerns
Friday, March 13, 2020
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Leader file photos

The colllege basketball careers of Louisiana Tech seniors Derric Jean (1, above) and Grayson Bright (with ball, below) came to an abrupt end Thursday with the cancellation of the Conference USA basketball tournaments and the NCAA men’s and women’s championship tournaments in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak gripping the United States.

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FRISCO, Texas — Only minutes before the second day of the 2020 Air Force Reserve Conference USA Basketball Tournament was set to tip off, the league office in conjunction with the conference’s university athletics directors made the announcement that the remainder of the event was cancelled.

The decision comes in conjunction with a wave of collegiate and professional athletic cancellations across the country following consultation with the NCAA, local authorities and related health and safety officials.

Both Louisiana Tech teams were still alive in the tournament after the Lady Techsters 66-63 upset over Alabama-Birmingham on Wednesday. The Techsters were only 30 minutes away from tipoff against Middle Tennessee. The Bulldogs were set to play their quarterfinal game against Marshall at 9 p.m. Thursday night.

A few hours later, March Madness came to a screeching halt before a bracket could even be filled out.

The NCAA canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments Thursday because of the spread of coronavirus, putting an abrupt end to the season less than a month before champions were to be crowned.

The unprecedented move comes a day after the NCAA announced the games that were scheduled to start next week would go on, but played in mostly empty arenas. That plan was scrapped as every major American sports league from the NBA to MLB put the brakes on its season due to concerns about the pandemic.

“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during the academic year given the ongoing decisions by other entities,” the NCAA said in statement.

The NCAA canceled championships in every spring sport, which include hockey, baseball and lacrosse.

The stunning end to the major college basketball season came about four hours after a frantic morning when conference tournaments around the country came to a sudden stop. Moments away from tipoff at some arenas, and minutes apart, each Power Five conference — the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences — canceled its remaining games.

At Madison Square Garden in New York, the Big East game between Creighton and St. John’s did start, but at halftime the conference called off that game and all the rest. Turns out that was the last Division I basketball to be played this season.

“This has been the most extraordinary stretch of days I’ve ever had or ever seen in my 30-plus years of working in the sports business,” Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said.

Smaller conferences followed suit, shutting down their tournaments, and within a few hours 58 men’s games scheduled in 16 conferences had been canceled.

Then the conferences began shutting down all athletic activities, for at least a few weeks like the SEC, or indefinitely like the ACC.

A few hours later, the NCAA put an end to it all.

“So you telling me I transferred to not play in the tournament,” tweeted Gonzaga point guard Ryan Woolridge, a graduate transfer from North Texas.

Gonzaga was expected to be a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed and play a possible secondround game in its home city of Spokane, Washington.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been played every year since 1939 when Oregon won the championship in Evanston, Illinois. It has grown through the years, both in size and stature. The three-week tournament generates almost a billion dollars in revenue each year for the NCAA and its hundreds of member schools. Most of the money comes from a television contract with CBS and Turner that pays the NCAA almost $800 million annually. Earlier this week, NCAA President Mark Emmert told The Associated Press that the NCAA had insurance to cover a business stoppage but gave no details.

The men’s tournament is now one of the biggest events in American sports, a basketball marathon of buzzer-beaters, upsets and thrills involving 68 teams from schools big and small.