It seemed basketball business as usual Thursday morning for Notre Dame.
The scouting report already had been delivered to the players. The team was on its charter bus headed to a morning shoot-around in advance of its game that night against Virginia. Word then arrived that the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament would be suspended, effective immediately. The Irish men’s basketball season effectively ended around noon Thursday.
As the day unfolded, Notre Dame administrators were in the process of trying to secure a charter flight back from Greensboro, N.C., for its traveling party. Notre Dame is scheduled to fly home Friday at noon. From there, players will travel on to their hometowns. No one knows when, or even if, they’d be back to campus. There are no more games and no more road trips. No more anything. Not just for the Irish, but for all of college basketball.
It was that kind of crazy, fluid day for the Irish and for the entire college basketball world as the biggest conferences all canceled their tournaments because of the coronavirus, which forced the outright cancellation of this month’s NCAA Tournament — one of the biggest events on the American sports calendar. It was announced Thursday afternoon that it will not be played. Not this month. Not next month. Not this season. Everything’s over.
Within minutes of each other, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference announced that the remainder of their tournaments would not be played. All were preparing to play games in large arenas across the country, but with few people in the buildings.
Also on Thursday the NAIA announced it was cancelling all remaining winter championships, including its Division II men’s basketball championship that got underway Wednesday in Sioux Falls, S.D. Both Holy Cross, which won a game Wednesday morning and IUSB, which was scheduled to play Thursday night, were participating in that tournament.
“I believe that the ACC made the correct decision in cancelling the tournament,” Irish coach Mike Brey said in a statement posted on his Twitter account Thursday afternoon. “The health and safety of our student-athletes, support staff, families and friends are the top priority at this moment.”
Notre Dame (20-12) beat Boston College, 80-58, in a second-round ACC tournament game Wednesday. It was the most lopsided league tournament victory in Notre Dame’s seven seasons in the ACC.
“I feel for our seniors, who believed they had a lot more basketball left to be played this year,” Brey said. “If Rex Pflueger, T.J. Gibbs and John Mooney have played their last game in a Notre Dame uniform, it is fitting they went out as winners — as they have been on and off the court for their entire careers at Notre Dame.”
Soon after those tournament cancellation announcements, several schools, including Duke and Kansas, which would likely have been the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, announced that they were suspending all athletic activities for the foreseeable future.
All over the country from Boise, Idaho, to Birmingham, Alabama, one of the busiest college basketball days of the year — with teams fighting for championship trophies and automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament — was being shut down.
Then, late Thursday afternoon, the NCAA announced it was scrapping its celebrated men’s basketball tournament. The NCAA Tournament generates more than $900 million dollars for the association and its hundreds of member schools. The NCAA also announced it was cancelling all other winter and spring sports championships.
Some leagues took a little longer than others to pull the plug on basketball tourneys. The Big East started its second-round game between top-seeded Creighton and St. John’s at Madison Square Garden in New York and not until halftime was the tournament called off.
As the Bluejays and Red Storm were playing, a few subway stops away at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Atlantic-10 was holding a news conference to call off its tournament.
Among the other conferences that canceled tournaments were: the American Athletic Conference in Fort Worth, Texas; Conference USA in Frisco, Texas; the Sun Belt in New Orleans; the Western Athletic Conference in Anaheim, California; the Big Sky in Boise; the Southwestern Athletic Conference in Birmingham; and the Mid-American Conference in Cleveland at an arena that is home to the NBA’s Cavaliers and is scheduled to be the site of NCAA men’s tournament games next week.
The SEC also announced the suspension of regular-season competition for teams in all sports on campuses as well as SEC championship events until March 30.
At the ACC, Florida State and Clemson were on the floor warming up for the first game of a scheduled quadrupleheader when the announcement came down that no games would be played.
Top seed Florida State was then awarded the league’s championship trophy in an odd ceremony with Commissioner John Swofford in a mostly empty arena.
This was a very different kind of March Madness.