WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The sports apocalypse caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will no doubt be fully realized this weekend, when the Final Four would have been staged at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Instead, CBS has been replaying some of the classic Final Fours of years past. Although it's a considerate gesture for the sports-deprived viewer, it's a poor substitute for the stark reality that snatched the NCAA tournament away from college basketball fans – just as "March Madness" was gearing up – for the first time in its 81-year history.
Now consider this: About 75 million people (roughly 3% of the world's population) lost their lives during World War II. Yet the NCAA forged ahead with its annual tournament, then in its infancy.
Alas, it took a silent but deadly invisible virus to shut down not only the NCAA's biggest money-maker, but also arguably the nation's most wide-reaching sporting event, as evidenced by the vast and diverse bracketologists, from housewives and businessmen to broadcasters and U.S. presidents.
To call it a bummer would be an understatement for fans of teams like Dayton (29-2), which finished undefeated in Atlantic 10 Conference play and third in the final Associated Press top 25 rankings. It was the highest ranking for the Flyers since the 1955-56 season.
There's also No. 4 Florida State (26-5), which claimed the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title for the first time in school history and was on pace to record its first-ever 30-win season. The Seminoles, whose lone trip to the Final Four came in 1972, were on the short list of teams that very likely could have been playing this weekend.
At least ACC coach of the year Leonard Hamilton and his Seminoles have something to show for it. When sports came to an abrupt halt last month, Hamilton's team was on the basketball court preparing for their quarterfinal matchup against Clemson in the ACC Tournament. He and his players were swiftly ushered off the hardwood, presented the official ACC trophy and sent home.
Just like that, the season was over.
Longtime ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale picked Florida State to win it all, while the Florida Senate declared the Seminoles national champions – on paper, at least.
Although insignificant when compared to the millions of Americans struggling to cope in the midst of unemployment, financial hardship and illness, college basketball fans aren't exempt. There will be plenty of them feeling down and out this weekend.
In time, the coronavirus crisis will pass, but 2020 will always have a place in the annals of sports history for what could have been, were it not for damned COVID-19.