It’s a day that will live in infamy, in sporting circles anyway.
It’s March 12, 2020, or the day the sports world stopped turning.
The 24 hours between Wednesday evening and Thursday night included the widespread grinding to a halt of the sporting world the likes we haven’t seen in a generation. Beginning with the NBA, then cascading across the college basketball landscape, Major League Soccer, and then the NHL, and with even Major League Baseball suspending operations, the sporting scene in both Ohio and across the country was shattered in response to the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus.
In Ohio, the issued exploded to the forefront on Thursday. The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced the postponement of all of its winter sports championships, including the state wrestling finals, the girls basketball state tournament, and the boys basketball regional/state tournaments.
In the college ranks, the Mid-American Conference, the Big Ten, the Atlantic 10, and the Big East canceled their postseason tournaments. It left teams from Ohio, OSU, Xavier and Dayton — among others — missing out on their chance to pursue dreams of making the NCAA Tournament.
And even that tournament, the ‘Big Dance’, was lost later in the day when the NCAA took the unprecedented step of postponing all of its remaining winter sport championships AND all of its spring sport championships.
The NCAA announced Thursday that there would be no March Madness, no College World Series, no college championships at all in the next few months.
"Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships," a statement from the NCAA said. "This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.”
It means the NCAA will not crown a men’s basketball champion for the first time since postseason play began in 1939. There will not be a women’s champ since the NCAA took over that tournament in 1981-82.
The MAC, hours after cancelling its biggest event of the year — the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — announced there would be no athletics in the conference in the foreseeable future.
Conference commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher, after consulting with the MAC Council of Presidents and the Council of Directors of Athletics, announced the implementation or revised policies moving forward for the conference.
The new protocols for the MAC moving forward include:
— The MAC Women’s Gymnastics Championship, scheduled for March 21, has been cancelled.
— The MAC will cancel all regular season and championship competition, and non-traditional competition, for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.
— In the MAC, all former and organized practices have suspended until further notice.
— And lastly, the MAC has suspended off-campus recruiting activities, and both official and unofficial visits. The only permissible recruiting will be written and electronic communications to include letters, emails, text messages and phone calls, in compliance with existing NCAA legislation.
Ohio University Athletics had yet to release an official statement about the MAC’s new operating procedure. OU Director of Athletics Julie Cromer, however, was in Cleveland for the MAC Tournament and was consulting and communicating with the MAC office during the week.
The Bobcats, it can be assured, will be adhering to the new policies.
And what that means for Ohio Athletics, at least until further notice, is that the athletics year is essentially over at Ohio.
There will be no weekend baseball series at Bob Wren Stadium. There will be no softball doubleheaders at the Ohio Softball Field.
And there will be no Bobcat football. Ohio had completed just two of its 15 spring practices before taking off for Spring Break this week. OU will not resume spring camp until the policy changes from the MAC office, and that includes Ohio’s schedule Pro Day on March 17.
Thursday’s sequence of events marked a sudden end to the 2019-20 athletic calendar at Ohio. There are dozens of issues to sort through for all of the Bobcat programs. There are no games, or practices, or in-person recruiting, on the horizon.
The Bobcats, like everyone else right now, are in a holding pattern, trying to ride out a turbulent time and bracing for what’s next.
Ohio men’s basketball coach Jeff Boals admitted as much on Thursday. The current state of affairs for his team, and all sports teams at OU, is on uneven ground. It was tough to see the curtain brought down on sports, but it was the only option he could see in the current environment.
As Thursday showed, he wasn’t the only one with the opinion.
“We’re in unchartered waters right now. It’s something that hasn’t happened. I think our leadership did the right thing and made the right call,” Boals said.
“It’s a situation where everyone is trying to get out in front of this a little bit and limit the exposure of what might be out there. We’ll get through it the best we can like with anything else.”