March Madness has been officially canceled.
In yet another move that showed high-level sports has basically shut down in this country, the NCAA announced Thursday that it has canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, and all its winter and spring sports championships.
The decision came as the NBA, NHL, and MLS suspended their seasons, and Division I conferences stopped men’s basketball tournaments, which started this week.
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. One day later, the organization pulled the plug entirely.
“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during the academic year, given ongoing decisions by other entities,’’ the NCAA said in a statement.
“Wow,’’ texted Swarthmore men’s basketball coach Landry Kosmalski, whose team was scheduled to host a third-round NCAA Division III game Saturday. Kosmalski had expected this news, but the weight of it still came as a shock. His Garnet had spent the entire season as the top-ranked team in Division III.
Jefferson University’s men’s basketball team had just checked into its hotel in Bridgeport, Conn., preparing to play a first-round Division II game Saturday, when it got the news.
"The only thing I could tell them, that their season is over,'' said Jefferson coach Herb Magee, who had seen everything in his hall of fame career, but hadn’t seen this. He kept it simple, he said, telling his players “that they had a great year, and I am proud of them.”
But the big news was that Division I was done. No March Madness. The decision was inevitable. Cancellations of conference tournaments came fast and furiously Thursday, one after another.
The Big East played half a game before deciding to halt its entire proceedings at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The Atlantic 10 already had called off its tournament in Brooklyn, after 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 entire sports landscape getting knocked out by the coronavirus and official mandates that large public gatherings are the worst way to slow its spread.
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 was 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 .
“I walked into the locker room, said, ‘The bad news, we’re done. The good news, we’re conference champions,’ " Dillon said, since her team was the top seed in the tournament, tied for first in the standings. “It lightened the mood.”
But it was emotional, she said, especially for seniors, realizing this was 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, relating how players were aware of what was going ono but kept their focus in case the game came off.
“But you get it immediately. There are bigger things going on," Dillon added.
The championship events were canceled as many college campuses, locally and around the country, were closing, going to online classes. Many were canceling spring sports entirely or planning for them without fans. Temple, St. Joe’s, and Penn State announced they were suspending all spring sport competitions and events, including the Owls’ Cherry and White Fan Fest and the Nittany Lions’ Blue-and White Game.
The drastic developments snowballed once the NBA announced Wednesday night that it was suspending operations after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for coronavirus. Thursday, following news that another Jazz player had tested positive, Major League Baseball and the NHL followed suit.
A cascade of conference-tournament cancellations came around midday, from the Atlantic 10 and Atlantic Coast Conference to the Southeastern Conference and the Pac-12, and others.
Duke announced it was suspending all sports activities, and the ACC followed suit, leaving little wiggle room to play the NCAA Tournament.
The Big East was 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 hours later.
Big East commissioner Val Ackerman called it “the most extraordinary stretch of days I’ve had or ever seen in my 30-plus years of working in the sports business.”
Ackerman t said decisions were “changing by the hour,” relying on “the judgments of doctors and experts,” since nobody running a sports league is a medical professional. A 10 a.m. video call with NCAA senior executives gave “no idea that these developments were going to transpire with conference tournaments.”
New York’s Office of Emergency Management was changing its position constantly. Ackerman said that New York City was about to issue directives “related to large gatherings here in New York.” At that point, the decision was made to stop play at Madison Square Garden at halftime of the noon game.
Hours later, the Big East announced the cancellation of all 2020 spring sports competitions, effectively immediately.
Drexel’s women’s team planned to have a team dinner at the hotel outside Greensboro, N.C., then a bus ride up I-95. The Jefferson men’s and women’s buses would be coming south in the other direction. Villanova had just gotten back from New York when the NCAA announcement of the canceled basketball tournaments hit.
"This is so historical,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “You like to be prepared for everything, but we’re just going to have to go let the guys know.”
The way the world works now, his players knew before Wright could see them.