James Madison University players react to losing in the first round of the 2020 CAA tournament after falling to Elon University 63-61 on March 7. (Daniel Kucin Jr./The Washington Informer)
James Madison University players react to losing in the first round of the 2020 CAA tournament after falling to Elon University 63-61 on March 7. (Daniel Kucin Jr./The Washington Informer)

Not wars, riots or any other historical events have ever led to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournaments, often referred to as “March Madness,” since 1939 or 1982, respectively, for the men’s or women’s basketball teams — until now.

With the coronavirus sweeping across the globe, the news of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19 prompted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to postpone the season for at least 30 days in an effort to protect players, staff and fans who attend the games.

The NCAA would take similar precautionary measures — first choosing allow the games to continue, albeit without roaring fans in attendance before canceling the tournaments altogether.

“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,” the NCAA said in a statement.

Teams from across the nation had been battling it out in various conference’s tournament games hoping to punch their ticket to the “Big Dance” with an automatic bid — the prize for winning their league’s title.

One of those matchups featured two teams in the Colonial Athletic Association Men’s Basketball [CAA] Tournament held in the District at the newly-developed Entertainment and Sports Arena, March 7-10.

Hofstra University defeated Northeastern University (70-61) as the Pride moved on to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 — a dream come true for the game’s most outstanding player since the age of six.

“Growing up, that is always what I wanted to do, sitting at the TV and watching those games,” Hofstra guard Desure Buie said. “You dream of this as a kid. Kemba Walker was my role model, so I used to run home to see him and I just wanted to be a part of something special. I wouldn’t trade these guys for the world.”

But on March 12, the CAA announced that a game official who worked at the 2020 CAA Men’s Basketball Championship tested positive for the coronavirus. Tournaments would be abruptly canceled, including those for many powerhouse conferences including the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac 12.

The last basketball game of the year would be between two storied HBCU institutions, Delaware State University and Morgan State University, but the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Women’s Tournament game held at Scope Arena in Norfolk did not finish in typical fashion.

Despite the third-ranked Lady Bears from Morgan State (17-13) snagging victory in a thriller, 64-63, coaches and players alike knew they’d be denied the opportunity to play in something for which they’d prepared most of their lives.

“Extremely, extremely disappointed. I think all of us felt we could postpone and even postpone into May, and if we needed to cancel, we could cancel then. If that’s what they’re doing then, I guess, that’s what they’re doing,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said during a live interview on ESPN as the news first broke.

However, Villanova head coach Jay Wright admitted, “it was the right thing to do.”

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal weighed in on the NCAA’s decision also.

“Damn shame it’s gone take the top tier NCAA teams to do what they’re doing now for them (the NCAA selection committee) to halt the tourney!” Beal said on Twitter.

The University of Maryland (No. 12 Terps, 24-7) won the Big Ten Tournament regular-season conference championship on March 9 at the Xfinity Center in College Park after defeating No. 25 Michigan University 83-70. Afterward, they received the Big Ten Championship Trophy for the first time since joining the league in 2014.

Former St. John’s College High School standout Anthony Cowan, Jr. cut down the nets in celebration. Sadly, no one would ever know how far the senior could have taken his team.

In similarly-disappointing fashion, Hartford University defeated Stony Brook, 64-58, in the American East Conference Championship semifinal match. The Hawks (Hartford) stood just one game away from winning their first conference championship in school history and an automatic bid to play in the tournament before the cancellation.

Six-foot-six senior standout Malik Ellison emerged as the leading scorer for the Hawks and the catalyst for his team’s success during their historic run. For his coach and many of his teammates, they will have another chance to compete for a championship. Ellison will have to live with the fact that he won’t be able to fulfill that goal.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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