Celebrations, nets being cut down, and high hopes for a long March. That is where the world stopped for Maryland basketball. Both the men's and women’s teams won the Big Ten regular-season title only to have their seasons come to an abrupt end.
So what now in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic?
That is the challenge facing collegiate athletes across the country and there are no easy solutions for any program. University of Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans said that while he is glad his basketball players' last memory is a significant one, delivering the message that their season was over took a certain amount of care.
“You have to be understanding of all the emotions they are going through,” Evans told NBC Sports Washington.
Evans said the only past experience that offers any wisdom is how the sports world helped us all find a sense of normalcy in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. But at that time, sports actually brought this country together. The baseball and football seasons resumed. The NHL and NBA seasons began less than a month later, on time. The World Series was played. College football occupied the weekends.
Today, we have no idea when we can unite in fandom again. That makes the current situation especially challenging. Few things bring entire communities together the way sports can.
“We’ve never seen anything like it," Evans said. "We have to make sure we look out for the best interest of our students, learn as we go along, but be as proactive as possible.”
For fans, they wait for the games to begin again. For many college athletes, it’s the end of a dream, or an opportunity denied. Seniors' careers were cut short, spring sports a no go. And while football season and other fall sports are months away, we have no real idea yet how they will be impacted - or if fans will be hesitant to once again congregate in large crowds after being quarantined for weeks or even months.
There are other challenges for colleges. While saying goodbye to seniors and the relatively few players who turn professional is paramount, the schools also have to worry about future student-athletes. Evans says recruiting is a challenge for coaches in all sports now. The process has come to a halt without being able to bring kids on campus or send anyone out to make their pitch for Maryland.
“The NCAA put a dead period through April 15th and it may be extended,” Evans said.
So the window to evaluate players will be tightened and programs that think they have positive momentum will have to be creative in how they go about building on that.
The NCAA and Big Ten hold meetings consistently even as the sports themselves are on hiatus. Evans said the Big Ten athletic directors still hold a weekly conference call to bring up issues they are facing and brainstorm ideas for how to make life easier for their coaches and players. He is often on the phone from morning until late in the evening.
But finding solutions is sadly not so simple in many cases. Finding ways to grant relief for spring sports seasons or deal with the financial implications of lost seasons are tremendous. What can you say to student-athletes in such an uncertain time?
“First and foremost, stay safe and healthy, and know that we are thinking about them," Evans said. "We appreciate all they do and what they mean to this program as a whole. We will get through this.”
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