Photo courtesy of Mitch White/FSU athletics
Division I college athletics is officially done until at least August.
The last remaining conferences made the decision to cancel all sports for the rest of the 2019-20 athletic year earlier this week. In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, the NCAA made the decision last week to cancel all remaining winter and spring championships.
The decision came just three days before Selection Sunday. That’s when the men’s NCAA Tournament brackets were set to be unveiled. The women were set to see brackets on Monday night.
Of all the athletes that had their seasons ended abruptly, it’s the basketball players that deserved better. Although playing games didn’t appear to be an option, there were measures the NCAA could have taken to alleviate some of the despair.
Why Not Brackets?
They wouldn’t have meant much, but the bracket portion of Selection Sunday could have went on as planned. While no games would have actually been played, just presenting brackets could have further acknowledged great seasons for some teams.
Think about Rutgers for a minute. The Scarlet Knights were projected to be a part of the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 1991. In fact, Rutgers hadn’t even had a winning season since the 2005-06 campaign prior to this season’s 20-11 finish.
Although those players wouldn’t have actually had the opportunity to play on the March Madness stage, seniors could leave the program knowing they were part of a team that broke a nearly 3-decade drought. For those kids, that probably would have meant something.
For others such as Dayton, Florida State and San Diego State that were in the midst of historic seasons, brackets would have given further credence to unprecedented seasons for those programs. The Flyers, Seminoles and Aztecs would have almost certainly garnered their highest seeding in the NCAA Tournament ever. Although those teams wouldn’t have had the opportunity to win a national championship, it was important to add perspective to what they accomplished.
Think about the seniors at Colorado and Indiana. For those players, the NCAA Tournament appearance would have been the only ones of their careers. Even though games weren’t going to be played, being part of the teams that returned the Buffaloes or Hoosiers to the big dance would have been high notes to go out on.
As far as the selection process goes, committee members wouldn’t have even had to meet in person. They could have convened by phone or online.
Hoops Seniors Won’t Get Another Year
The NCAA has expressed its desire to provide another year of eligibility to athletes who have had their seasons cut short. On Wednesday however, it was reported that the offer likely won’t extend to basketball players.
There are 350 Division I teams and for most, their seasons were already over. For others however, a lot was lost.
The example we’ll use in this case is Florida State senior guard Trent Forrest. When Forrest arrived in Tallahassee, the outgoing senior class had missed the NCAA Tournament each year.
During his time, Forrest helped the Seminoles get to the dance each season. As a freshman, FSU tied a program record with 12 ACC wins. As a sophomore, the Seminoles reached the Elite Eight for the first time in 25 years. During his junior season, FSU set new program records for total wins and ACC wins.
This past season, FSU broke last season’s ACC wins record and won its first ACC regular season title ever. With exceptional depth and length, the Seminoles were contenders to cut the nets down in Atlanta. That’s now an opportunity that Forrest and other seniors will not have. For a school like Florida State — who despite its recent hoops success is still considered a football school — opportunities to field teams good enough to win a national championship don’t come around that often.
Though it’s true that most Division I seniors completed their careers prior to the decision to cancel the NCAA Tournament, those whose teams qualified should have been given the opportunity to try again next season. A large number of those, including Forrest, would still have likely left to play professionally — overseas or otherwise. Still, extending that offer seems like a minimal thing to ask.
So Long for Now
For the first time in its history, there will be no NCAA Tournament. It ended abruptly this season and the NCAA’s reaction was to kill it and all its festivities on the spot.
Although they would have been largely meaningless, releasing brackets could have brought some fulfillment to teams that accomplished great things throughout the course of the season. While all spring athletes will avoid losing a year of eligibility as a result of this pandemic, tourney-bound basketball seniors should have also been afforded that option.