UPDATE 5:10pm: although it feels wholly logical to assume that college baseball and softball are over for 2020, the language in the two released statements- from the SEC and NCAA, and which you can read below- left one pair of dots unconnected. At this point, there remains no constructed sentence that either organization has officially published that has explicitly stated that the SEC cannot or will not continue its baseball or softball seasons after March. Consider: just because the College World Series has been canceled doesn’t mean that the SEC can’t wait a month or so to reassess things, and then construct a makeshift season just to determine an official SEC Champion. The closest thing to a known equivalent situation? If every SEC school was simultaneously serving an NCAA postseason ban but was still allowed to compete for the SEC crown. It’s not the big one, it’s not the ultimate prize, and it’s not what you dream of fighting for- but it would be something. And although reason tells me this is extremely unlikely, the door for this remains cracked ajar.
UPDATE 4:22pm: and now, the thermonuclear bombshell announcement that we’ve all been dreading. The NCAA has canceled all winter and spring championship events due to the coronavirus.
Not postponed. Not suspended. Not “to be determined.” According to that statement, the NCAA Basketball Tournament has been canceled. It’s gone, wiped out, not to be. There will be no March Madness this season, nor will there be any NCAA Baseball or NCAA Softball Tournaments. Barring a highly unlikely retraction or change of heart, the 2019-20 athletic season is officially finished. The 2019-20 basketball season is over, not to be continued, resumed or picked up. It’s done, dead, finished, history. It’s over.
But as awful a reality as this is for Florida’s basketball program, it’s an exponentially more devastating blow to the Florida Gators’ baseball and softball teams, top ten teams who appeared well on their way to earning top eight national seeds and thus clear paths to their respective World Series. That’s also a devastating blow to gymnastics, men’s track and field, women’s swim and dive, women’s lacrosse, men’s tennis, women’s golf, men’s swim and dive and women’s track and field teams- all either ranked in the top ten or one spot below it, at #11, in their respective sports.
It’s the ultimate two sided issue. On one hand, the athletes on these teams deserved a better ending to their seasons- especially the seniors. But on the other hand, nothing is more important than doing everything possible to ensure the safety of fellow global citizens, and with something as potentially deadly as the coronavirus, the NCAA decided to err on the side of caution.
The main question I still have is whether or not the seniors- particularly in the spring sports- will get another year of eligibility. They should. But that’s something that likely won’t be answered for a long time, and all we can do until we receive that answer is wait and hope that the NCAA acts appropriately.
There is no silver lining to this. There is no “but at least something good came of this.” There is nothing good; it’s all bad, it’s all sad, and it’s all part of a horrifying nightmare that’s currently sweeping our planet. Hopefully, we at least get some positive finality to the situations of the seniors playing spring sports, and hopefully this pandemic is resolved in time for college football on September 5th.
Previous updates begin below
UPDATE 2:20pm: according to an email sent from the University of Florida Athletic Association, as of now, spring football practices will go on behind closed doors.
UPDATE 2:15pm: First Duke, and then Kansas, have announced that should the NCAA Tournament carry on as usual, they will not participate. I hate to connect dots, but if we’re being logical here, that feels like game over for the entire tournament- at least in terms of it carrying on as we know it.
UPDATE 2:02pm: SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has stayed that if an NCAA Championship event is played as scheduled- such as the NCAA Tournament- SEC teams will be able to participate. This will be the one exception to the suspension of SEC athletic events.
UPDATE 12:59pm: Well, I guess this next update takes care of just about every question we had left: the SEC has suspended play until at least March 30th.
The one main question it doesn’t answer, though, is what will happen if and when the seasons do pick back up. For that answer, we’ll just have to wait and see.
UPDATE 12:23pm: Due to the obscene amount of updates I feel are coming, I think the best way to do this is to post live updates in a ticker fashion at the top, and leave the initial article below. Because maybe 90 seconds after I hit the publish button on this article, this update appeared:
That wipes out three weeks of Gator baseball, right off the bat. The games that will be missed during this time period include a three game set with Georgia at home, midweek games against Jacksonville and Stetson, a road weekend series at Kentucky, a midweek game against FSU in Jacksonville and a weekend series at home against Texas A&M.
There are an infinite number of routes the SEC could go here, ranging from simply tacking the games on to the end of the season to eliminating them and just playing a 21 game SEC schedule rather than 30, and everything in between. That is, of course, assuming no additional games are canceled.
Stay tuned for more updates, as I’ll be adding them to this story as they develop.
Original article begins below
It’s no exaggeration to say that the strain of the coronavirus labeled COVID-19 has had various global and devastating impacts.
The stock market is crashing. The country of Italy has all but been shut down. A 30 day travel ban to the entire continent of Europe has been enforced. The NBA has suspended its season indefinitely thanks to Rudy Gobert being an idiot. And the effects of the virus have reached college sports, too- a statement that, of course, very much includes the Florida Gators.
First and foremost, the duration of the Gator basketball season- if it’s not over already- will be played without fans in attendance. Yesterday, NCAA president Mark Emmert announced that the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments would be played in empty arenas with only the most vital of staff in attendance. That was swiftly followed by SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announcing that the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament would follow suit. And then this morning, the ultimate escalation followed:
As of this publishing, at 12:20pm on Thursday, the NCAA Tournament remains on (just without fans). But that’s subject to change in a myriad of ways. Florida’s probably going to get into the Big Dance, at least if the Tournament remains a 68 team event. However, one of the many potential courses of action for the NCAA could be to simply shrink the field down to 64, 32, 16 or even 8 teams if that’s what it feels it needs to do in order to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, which could bump the Gators out. Or it may just eliminate the tournament altogether. It could also postpone it for a week, a month or even two or three months if it feels it has to. So that’s just one of many things to keep an eye on.
The SEC’s initial plan to simply play in empty arenas, though, extends far beyond the SEC Tournament in Nashville this week. It includes all sporting events taking place on SEC campuses and SEC Championship events would be played without fans through- and these next two words are key- at least March 30th. That includes all Gator baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis, track and field and golf events, beginning tomorrow night with a slew of different events to be hosted on SEC campuses- and that’s if the events don’t get suspended or canceled to begin with.
Joining the SEC’s basketball tournament in being canceled is any scheduled spring event against an Ivy League school after the Ivy League abruptly canceled all spring sports. Most notably, that includes scheduled Gator lacrosse games against Ivy opponents Brown and Princeton.
There remains a ton of information at large, such as spring practice for the Gator football team and resulting spring game. And as we already saw with the SEC Tournament, things are subject to change, and quite rapidly at that; in less than sixteen hours, the tournament went from going on as scheduled to being scheduled to be played without fans to being nixed altogether. So in the world of high uncertainty we face right now, it feels like a fairly certain bet that we haven’t seen the last of the coronavirus impacting sports.
What’s most important to remember during this time of mass panic is that awareness is one of your best weapons against the coronavirus. Various reports say that this strain of the virus has a mortality rate of between two and four percent, and that some 80% of the infected individuals show no, little or moderate symptoms. Those numbers probably don’t look so bad… until you pair them together and realize what that combination means. People can catch the virus, become infected, never show symptoms, never know they’re infected and therefore not take appropriate action, and infect older and more vulnerable people. That’s why this disease, which doesn’t have an especially high mortality rate, has already killed far more people than SARS.
That’s the source of all the fear and event canceling that’s taking place in America- and given the acceleration of the event cancellation rate in the last 24 hours, I can’t help but suspect that more event cancellations regarding Gator sports are coming. And that may just be what has to be done. It’s sad that I need to issue this reminder, but some things are bigger than sports. This virus won’t last forever, and when it does recede, the sports we all love will still be there.
In the meantime, stay vigilant, stay smart and follow the CDC’s advice. If we as a society do our part to help stamp out the coronavirus, we may just help speed up the end of this epidemic- and thus, the resumption of the Gator athletics we all love.