Magic vs. Bird, George Mason making it to the Final Four, Chris Webber calling timeout with no timeouts remaining, Christian Laettner at the buzzer, Covid-19 cancelling the tournament. These are all iconic memories associated with one of America’s most culturally beloved annual sporting events, March Madness. But one of these things is certainly not like the others.
As March Madness 2021 looms closer, basketball fans everywhere prepare for their favorite time of the year. However, this go round the event serves as a reminder that we’ve nearly completed a full year of having our lives turned upside down by the impact of Covid-19.
The world likely changed forever with the spread of the deadly virus, and specifically within the United States when it began spreading domestically last spring. While our main priority during this pandemic has always been learning how to protect ourselves and defeat the virus, it’s ok to spend some time thinking about its impact on phases of our lives less critical than pure survival. One of the prime examples being how the world of sports has been affected by the coronavirus.
The first major sporting event to be cancelled due to the threat of Covid-19 last year was the massive annual NCAA Men’s and Women’s season-ending basketball tournaments. Better known as “March Madness”. The cancellation of this event was literally unprecedented. The Men’s tournament had been played every year since its inception in 1939, and the Women’s every year since it began in 1982.
I still remember hearing the news of the event’s cancellation like it was yesterday. As an avid sports fan, your life revolves around your favorite sporting events, to the point where you habitually associate annual ones with the time of year they take place. No matter what else is going on in the world, the sports world largely remains unaffected, and it’s hard to even fathom something as large as March Madness being flat out cancelled.
Sadly, the cancellation of the tournament was the first instance in which it became clear to many Americans that the wildly contagious nature of the virus was going to halt each and every phase of what we understand to be “normal”. A full calendar year later, the event now prepares for its grand return in a “bubble” format. A tournament that’s normally played in front of thousands of fans in arenas in every region of the country will be played entirely in one city to eliminate the risk of spreading the virus during travel. One full year later and things are still being done drastically different than what we used to consider the norm, and last year’s cancellation of March Madness was just the beginning of so many unimaginable impacts that Covid-19 would have on the world of sports.
Shortly after the announcement of the cancellation of the NCAA tournaments, the NBA and NHL seasons both paused all activities, and weeks later MLB had to delay the start of its regular season. This started a roughly four-month span with no live sporting events taking place. This is a seemingly small issue within the spectrum of everything going on in the world at this time, but sports are more than just casual viewing for some people, they play a very important role in the life of a true fanatic.
To the dismay of my wife, many of my evenings revolve around watching my favorite teams play. It’s something I look forward to because of my pure passion for the sport and team itself, but also because sports serve as an escape from the rest of the world. It’s a separate haven from work, politics, and any responsibilities that take up so much of our waking hours. It’s been described as an unnatural obsession by others in my life, but it’s something that is truly a part of me and has been as far back as my earliest childhood memories go.
The cancellation of all sports was sudden, jarring, and at a time when all hours of my day were spent within the walls of my house waiting out a global health pandemic. I became so desperate for my sports fix that I spent my nights, after putting the kids to bed, watching replays of old Stars games from their 1999 Stanley Cup run, and Mavs games from their 2011 championship run. I was pretty much willing to watch anything sports related I could get my hands on. Nothing quite makes up for the excitement of live sports, but the nostalgia of past glory for my favorite teams at least helped this sad sports nut get through the longest sports-less stretch of my lifetime.
Even when all the obstacles were cleared to finally restart sports in the final week of July, we were looking at the version that Covid-19 had molded for us. Images of which will be truly hard to explain decades from now. Pro athletes playing in front of empty arenas with just a handful of staffers wearing masks on the sidelines was truly surreal. After a short adjustment period it became the new norm, like anything else in our pandemic driven lives, and I finally felt like I was just watching sports again. This was a significant comfort in such a stressful and uncertain time.
Many months have passed now since the return of sports. Seasons have changed, a monumental election has passed, a socially distanced holiday season, and now we finally have a vaccine trickling into our society. New seasons have started across all sports and although they are still experiencing some struggles, have largely learned to operate safely during the coronavirus outbreak. “Learning the new norm” seems to be the overwhelming theme of our world these days, and sports are a true embodiment of such an idea.
The pandemic comes full circle as we prepare to turn our calendars to March. We’ve learned a lot about our strength as a society and ourselves as individuals over the course of this year. As sports fans, we learned there actually is such a thing as a world without sports, but we also learned that we can live through it. But hopefully we’ll never have to again. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel that has been this pandemic, and the return of March Madness is a clear reminder of what we’ve been through. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on all we can be grateful for as our world inches closer to what we used to take for granted, which is simply, normal.
About the Author
Troy is a dad of two kiddos, Wyatt (4 and in yellow) & Audrey (1 and in red), plus a pup that is obsessed with him, and a fish, Mustard. He is married to Lauren, who has been an active member of the CECPTA for a few years now. Troy has a Bachelors of Arts in Journalism from the University of North Texas and loves to write about sports. Troy loves reading to the kids, plain ‘ole coffee, all sports Dallas, and Parks & Rec.