Empty Bridgestone Arena Tunnel

Empty tunnel at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, TN during the 2020 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament. March 12, 2020.

This week the NCAA announced the cancellation of all winter and spring sports as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result of being in Nashville to cover the SEC Men’s basketball tournament, we had a front row seat to the whirlwind that was March 11 and 12.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ryan Crews: “I woke up with a weird feeling on Wednesday. The day before it seemed like it was becoming more likely that UT would go online after the break, and then later that day, I found out from someone who was a professor at UT that he had been sent an email telling teachers to prepare for possible online classes. I was already leaving on Wednesday, so I packed my bags on that Tuesday night anyway. It was a very weird feeling packing up, not knowing whether I would be back in a week and a half or who knows how long.”

Ryan Schumpert: “I woke up, and it felt like any other day. I knew there was a good chance classes would go online, but I didn’t have much feel for when that would be. I felt like the NCAA Tournament might go to no fans, but outside of looking at a column that said the NCAA Tournament should be canceled, I hadn’t really considered it as much of a possibility."

Crews: “When I got to campus at 7:30 a.m. that Wednesday morning, I parked in the garage between Neyland Stadium and Thompson-Boling Arena in a spot overlooking the Tennessee River. As I was walking to class, there was an uneasy feeling about the atmosphere. There was a slight breeze and it was very quiet, but as the sun hadn’t risen, the orange letters atop Neyland gave off an eerie glow.”

“The rest of the morning went like normal and after my last class, I set off for Nashville, not knowing when I would be back. When I got to Nashville, I stopped by the Bridgestone to pick up my credential before heading to my home in Franklin, south of downtown.”

At 1:00 p.m. the College Basketball Invitational, the third biggest postseason tournament, was canceled.

Schumpert: “The CBI being canceled wasn’t a big deal to most, but it made me begin thinking about the possibility of other events being canceled. It made me think the NIT, which Tennessee would have likely competed in unless they had a miraculous run at the SEC Tournament, could possibly be cancelled.

At 2:10 p.m. the Golden State Warriors announced their game against the Brooklyn Nets would be played behind closed doors, starting a trend that would pick up steam. Just 35 minutes later, the governor of Ohio announced the five NCAA Tournament games played in Ohio would also be played behind closed doors and then at 4:30 p.m. the NCAA announced that all Men’s and Women’s NCAA Tournament games would be played without fans."

Crews: “I was sitting on the couch when I saw the announcement about the Tournament and didn’t believe it at first. I thought they misspoke and meant to just say Ohio but then I saw the official NCAA statement and knew it was true. Then my biggest question was what was going to happen with the conference tournaments."

Schumpert: “I was driving to Nashville when I got a notification about the tournament going to no fans. I wasn’t shocked at this point as it seemed like it was trending that way. My mind mainly went to how it would affect the NCAA Tournament, and if other conferences would follow suit with their tournaments.”

Following the growing trend, the majority of the major conferences also closed their tournaments with the Big Ten, ACC, PAC-12 and SEC all announcing within three hours of each other."

Crews: “It was going to be bizarre, but at least we were still going to get to cover it. Right?”

Schumpert: “Was going to make for an interesting event to cover.”

At 9:22 p.m. the Utah Jazz announced that star center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the virus. The NBA shortly after suspended its season.

Schumpert: “At this point I seriously wondered whether any games in any league would get played in the next week. I hoped that events could continue with no or limited fans, but I was starting to get skeptical.” 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Early on the morning of the 12th other conferences began to follow the NBA’s lead with the Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and ACC all canceling their tournaments.

Schumpert: “I’ve gone to the SEC Tournament all six times it's been in Nashville since 2010. When I arrived downtown it was just such a strange vibe. With very few fans there Demonbreun Street and the city felt dead. I had seen other conferences canceling their tournaments that morning and wondered what the chances were we’d see basketball that day.”

Crews: “I was excited that morning. I had been looking forward to the SEC Tournament for a while and today was the day. I had worn my khaki pants and I wore my credential for the entire twenty-minute drive to Nissan Stadium where the media parking was.”

At 11:47 a.m. ET the SEC followed the lead of other conferences, canceling its 2020 tournament.

Crews: “It was on the shuttle ride to the arena that things fell apart. I saw a quote from Rick Barnes saying that Tennessee and Alabama players should refuse to play, and my heart dropped. Just before the shuttle pulled up to the arena, the announcement came: The SEC Tournament was cancelled.”

Schumpert: “I had gotten to the arena about 20 minutes before it was called. Kentucky was practicing on the court, so I started transcribing quotes for my preview of Tennessee’s baseball series at South Carolina. Someone sitting a few seats down informed me the tournament was cancelled as the news started to make its way through the media workroom.”

Crews: “I didn’t know what to do but I decided to go ahead and go into the arena. I found Schumpert and another member of the Tennessee beat and pulled out my computer to follow what was going on. It was bizarre as all the different people inside the arena tried to get a grasp on what was going on. Once it kind of sunk in, I decided to grab a copy of game notes from the stacks on the table as a souvenir of the now cancelled event.”

Schumpert: “I immediately started working on a staff report about the tournament being canceled and made a note to Crews that I wasn’t going to work on my preview anymore until they were for sure playing. It seemed unlikely at that point.” 

Crews: “Afterwards, I decided to go into the actual arena bowl to take in the sights because I didn’t know when, if ever, I would be back. I walked down the press row to find where our seats would have been, but it seemed they had already pulled up the place markers by that time. My first impression was the eeriness of the situation. It was almost foreshadowing what would come.”

“I stayed in the building for nearly 90 minutes, not wanting to leave because that would make the situation seem all that more real.”

At around 1:30 p.m. ET SEC commissioner Greg Sankey met with the media, explaining the decision to cancel the tournament and informing media members that all SEC athletic competitions would be suspended until at least Mar. 30.

Schumpert: “Nothing groundbreaking came out of Sankey’s press conference, but I was excited to see the spring sports seasons were just being suspended and not canceled. Sankey teared up while talking about a Georgia basketball player who had told him that winning the 2008 SEC Tournament in Atlanta, just days after a tornado devastated the city, was the best day of his life. Sankey was sad the league wouldn’t be able to give another kid that moment. I think everyone understood the decision was the right one, but Sankey’s comments showed how much sports mean to people. It’s a game, but it’s so much more than a game.”

Everything came to a head at 4:16 p.m. when the NCAA announced the cancellation of all winter and spring championships this season.

Crews: “I was riding to the golf course when I saw the statement. It hit me like a ton of bricks. The finality of it all was what got to me. I sat there stunned for a few minutes, oblivious to the conversation between my mom and sister in the same car. Why not just postpone it? I feel like everyone knew it wasn’t going to happen in March, but it seemed like everyone was on board for some ‘May Madness’. And I just can’t imagine what this is like for seniors in spring sports.”

Schumpert: “I was sitting at the fifth tee when my friend broke the news to me. I was filled with disappointment about the NCAA Tournament and with shock about the men’s and women’s College World Series being canceled. It felt very premature for an event set to occur in late June. I felt sad. For myself as a sports fan, for myself as a sports reporter who now had a lot less sports to report on and for all the athletes who had their season ripped from them. I wondered whether those seniors would be given an extra year of eligibility, and what it would look like if they did.”

By the end of the day every major sport in America followed suit. The XFL canceled the rest of its inaugural season while the MLB and NHL suspended its season. 

The next day we found more clarity in college sports as no spring sports team would be allowed to practice. Tennessee’s spring practice and all recruiting visits would be canceled as well as the Orange and White game.

While college sports have shut down, the Beacon’s sports department has not. Look for continued interesting content this spring.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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