The cancellations came fast and furiously Thursday, one conference tournament after another.
The Big East played half a game Thursday before deciding to halt its entire proceedings at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The Atlantic 10 already had called off its tournament over in Brooklyn, which meant St. Joseph’s got a game in Wednesday, ending its season with a loss to George Mason. But La Salle’s season ended before the Explorers left their team hotel for their first game at the Barclays Center.
“It’s like eerie," Drexel women’s coach Denise Dillon said of the whole sports landscape knocked out by the coronavirus and official mandates that large public gatherings are the worst way to slow
The clock had been ticking toward Drexel’s first game in the Colonial Athletic Association women’s tournament.
“Four minutes left on the clock before the game, a guy came by, said, ‘Coach, get your team off the court,’ " Dillon said. “Knowing this was eventually going to happen, it was still a shock. I walked past the refs.They were high fiving, ready to go. I said, ‘No, we’re done.’ "
Dillon is realistic about the next step, waiting for the NCAA to pull the plug on all of March Madness.
“In reality, I think we all know, this is not going to happen, the NCAA tournament, right?” Dillon said over the phone Thursday just before 2 p.m.
If it were to happen, Dillon added, her team would be the CAA representative, as the top seed in the tournament. But that’s not the big picture she was focusing on.
“I walked into the locker room, said, ‘The bad news, we’re done. The good news, we’re conference champions,’ " Dillon said. “It lightened the mood.”
But it was emotional, she said, especially as seniors expected this was going to be it for their careers. Seeing Aubree Brown, always ready to play, in tears.
“We were ready," senior Bailey Greenberg told her coach.
“Of course we were," Dillon said back, relating how players were all aware of what was going out there, but kept their focus in case the game came off.
“But you get it, immediately, there are bigger things going on," Dillon added.
These decisions come as the NBA, NHL and MLS have suspended their seasons. On Wednesday, the NCAA announced all of its winter championship events -- basketball, wrestling, ice hockey and others -- were to be played without fans in attendance.
It also comes as many college campuses, locally and around the nation, are closing up, going to online classes, many canceling spring sports entirely or announcing that for now they plan to hold them without fans.
This all started to feel inevitable once the NBA announced Wednesday night that it was suspending operations for an undetermined period after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for coronavirus. Thursday, the announcement came that another Jazz player also had tested positive, and reports emerged about NBA teams using the same team planes.
Meanwhile, Nebraska’s head coach left the Big Ten Tournament during his game Wednesday after feeling sick, his prognosis unknown. By Thursday, the Big Ten Tournament was canceled.
A cascade of conference-tournament cancellations came around midday, from the Atlantic 10 to the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Southeastern Conference, moving out west to the Pac-12 and other leagues.
“I know for a fact one team was not coming this afternoon," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said about the ACC Tournament, before it was officially canceled.
The Big East became the last major men’s basketball conference to cancel its conference tournament, calling off the event at halftime of Thursday’s game between St. John’s and Creighton at Madison Square Garden. Villanova was scheduled to play DePaul at 7 Thursday night.
Teams such as the Villanova men and Drexel women moved into the next stage of limbo, waiting to find out if the NCAA Tournament would still be held without fans or if March Madness was going to be canceled entirely.