The abrupt cancellation of the 2020 men’s NCAA Tournament due to the COVID-19 virus left many scratching their heads.
Postpone? Of course. The world as we know it has seemingly been postponed.
But to completely cancel college athletics’ marquee event without even giving things a chance to play out seemed extreme and perhaps unnecessary — at least as an initial move. The NCAA could have always postponed now, and then canceled later as this unprecedented situation evolved.
Many immediately jumped to the logistical concerns. Where would you play the games? How could you find the hotel rooms? Putting the event back together on relatively short notice whenever the conditions permitted would have no doubt been difficult, but surely not impossible.
If you wanted to confine yourself to trying to replicate the exact 2020 NCAA Tournament as planned, with the same regional and Final Four sites, and everything else that goes into producing the event, then yes, it likely would have been nearly impossible.
It’s clear that other logistical options were on the table.
NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt told CBS Sports on Friday that he discussed the idea of a 16 team tournament with five other members of NCAA senior staff and tried to make it happen.
If you think about what happens each year immediately after the NCAA Tournament’s Selection Sunday, then it becomes rather obvious that some form of the event could have been salvaged.
With no real planning or foresight, the National Invitational Tournament gets cobbled together each year only after we all learn who is in the NCAA Tournament. 32 teams, with games played on college campuses until the Final Four — that no doubt could have worked.
Put the Final Four wherever you can. Indianapolis, with Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and Hinkle Fieldhouse, along with Super Bowl capable hotel accommodations no doubt could have worked along with dozens of other cities.
Again, not the NCAA Tournament that was planned, but if the goal was to crown a champion, then something along those lines could have been done.
And as everything was unraveling on Thursday, we all hoped that the NCAA Tournament could be salvaged in some way, shape, or form.
“I think you cross your fingers, because this is your livelihood,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “And you are all hopeful because the NBA is going to postpone the season, and maybe we can postpone here for a while and get back at it when things calm down.”
The NCAA Tournament is as near and dear to Miller as anyone.
It has been a part of his life since he started his college playing career more than 20 years ago at North Carolina State.
“In college basketball when you get to the finale on that Sunday and they call your name, it’s life changing,” Miller said.
No one wanted to find a solution to save the Tournament more than Miller.
But while alternatives were discussed, and other organizations like the NBA have postponed rather than canceled, the NCAA Tournament is now just gone.
No 2020 champion will be crowned. The careers of seniors are simply over.
Ultimately the NCAA selection committee voted down alternatives as it became clear that holding the NCAA Tournament was unlikely.
What made the NCAA Tournament unique?
In the end, it was really the calendar that made it impossible to move forward in any manner that would have been legitimate.
“We’re not like football where you get your bowl bid and there’s 30 days to settle ourselves, Miller said.
“In college basketball it’s fluid with your own team, players, agents, and pros. Who knows who would even play? Four weeks from right now, would it be safe for a one-and-done? Would it be safe for a rising NBA draft pick to wait three weeks to practice so he can play in the NCAA Tournament?”
And there it is.
When the college basketball season ends, many players immediately move on. Just a few more weeks of college classes remain, and NBA workouts, the combine and ultimately the draft are all right around the corner.
Push the tournament back a month or more, and who knows how those things intersect. The chances of fielding the top teams in the reconstructed Tournament with their best players was remote.
It was never about the logistics. Those things could have been worked out. You just need a ball and a gym to play the games. Some fans and perhaps television cameras would have been nice too, but all of that could have been salvaged.
It is only as complicated as you want to make it.
But the one thing you need more than anything else of course is the players.
And in today’s college basketball climate, that is what ultimately doomed the 2020 NCAA Tournament.
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