On the front page of the sports section in last Sunday’s Inquirer, there was the account of the Flyers’ having won a ninth straight game, another about the Sixers’ having lost on the road to the dreadful Warriors, a column — extremely well-written, I might add — about Villanova’s having escaped Washington with a narrow win over Georgetown in the Big East regular-season finale, and, at the very bottom of the page, the news that the Phillies and Major League Baseball had instituted a limited autograph policy.
One week ago.
The pace of change in the world, including the sports world, in the days since that issue was published has been head-spinning, and not every reaction to events has turned out to be the right one.
There was more than a little grumbling when the Ivy League acted Tuesday to cancel its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. At that time, the professional leagues were still chugging along and, at worst, it was predicted that some games or tournaments might be played without spectators.
It seemed unfair to reach a hasty decision ahead of an unseen curve, and abruptly end the basketball careers of all Ivy League seniors except those who happen to play for the regular-season-champion Yale men and Princeton women.
Yes, that was Tuesday.
As became apparent within the next 48 hours, maybe the Ivy League really is smarter than everyone else.
The last bounce of a ball in the college basketball season took place not long after noon Thursday when St. John’s and top-seeded Creighton finished the first half of their Big East quarterfinal game in Madison Square Garden with the Johnnies leading, 38-35.
Commissioner Val Ackerman was later criticized for even starting the game — at the same time other major conferences were shutting down their tournaments — and she had to answer questions about that at a quickly convened news conference. The number of cancellations around the country had stacked up just before tipoff, but the Big East went ahead, and then the decision was made to finish the half rather than have the nationally televised spectacle of players being removed from the court in mid-dribble.
“It was our view that we didn’t feel like we needed a dramatic, pull-the-players-off-the-court-in-the-middle-of-the-game gesture,” Ackerman said. “We just literally didn’t think that another 15 or 20 minutes of game time was going to make that much a difference.”
Ackerman’s sin, if there were one, was failing to shake the very real sense of disbelief in what was taking place. It is understandable that the situation was baffling. There is no guide book for how to handle a pandemic in this country. Fortunately, we haven’t had to collect that information previously. Next time, we’ll know.
Near the Garden in the early afternoon, following a walk-through to prepare for their 7 p.m. game, the Villanova staff and team learned of the tournament cancellation, which came just a few hours before the NCAA also shuttered its national tournaments.
A team goes through carefully planned-out routines during tournament time, following schedules that have been honed over the years with regard to practicing, eating, traveling, warming up, and everything else that goes into getting a team ready to play. There’s isn’t a routine for getting ready to not play, however.
“We try to pride ourselves in being very prepared, very organized, having everything in order for them,” coach Jay Wright said, “and I talked to them on the bus and said, ‘This is the first time we don’t really have everything under control here.’ ”
That sense of being unmoored from the security of experience is what really grew during the week as all the sports organizations in the country closed for business, with the exception of Ultimate Fighting Championship, which kind of figures. The last of the mainstreamish sports organizations to halt its events was NASCAR, which is pretty much on-brand as well.
UFC president Dana White said he decided to continue events presented by the mixed-martial-arts promotion company after conferring with President Trump. We’ll leave that one where it is.
The next event, Fight Night 170, was scheduled for Saturday in Brazil, where Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro says he tested negative for coronavirus after meeting last weekend with Trump in Miami. One of Bolsonaro’s aides who was at the meeting has tested positive, however. He will not be allowed to attend Fight Night, but, that’s all right, neither will anyone else.
Again, it’s hard to know how to act and how to respond these days. The directional signs have all been removed, and the streetlights are out. What seems reasonable now might look foolishly unwise by next Sunday’s paper. What is currently prudent might be regarded in retrospect as an overreaction. Anyone who says he or she can predict which is which is very wrong.
“It’s terrifying, frankly, what’s evolving here as the science and the assessments of the science are progressing,” Ackerman said. “And I don’t think any of us know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Give the people who will be making the next decisions a break — even Dana White — because they want things to go back to normal just as much as you do. But their main job right now is to remind us that normal might take longer than anyone guessed.