CLEARWATER, Fla. — College basketball fans were forced to change their plans and some of them spent the day relaxing at Clearwater Beach on Friday amid the COVID-19-related cancellations.
In an unprecedented move, the NCAA suspended all spring sports, including March Madness basketball, due to what is now being described as a “pandemic” by the World Health Organization.
Pittsburgh native Keith James planned on attending the BIG 12 tournament in Kansas City with his wife.
“We got tickets, booked the rooms,” said James, on the beach near the famous Pier 60. “We came here instead (Clearwater Beach).”
Despite the disappointment of buying tickets to an event they did not attend, he believes the NCAA made the right choice.
“I’ll miss the NCAA tournaments, but that’s alright,” said James. “Got to keep people safe.”
Not everyone in Clearwater saw the NCAA’s response to the matter as appropriate, particularly those with deep-rooted interests. With the University of Kansas being predicted as the overwhelming favourite to win the National Championship, one Jayhawks fan felt cheated.
“I think it’s an overreaction,” said Olivia, a Junior at the University of Kansas. “This is our year, I can’t watch them play and beat every other team in March Madness.”
The cancellation of the tournaments has made her feel like she can’t even recognize her own university.
“Basketball is Kansas’ biggest thing,” said Olivia.
The NCAA tournament, which made US$993 million in revenue last year, speaks to many Americans in ways pro sports don’t. While not every state has a professional team, college teams are relevant in every corner of the country.
“I’m from Nebraska and we don’t have a pro team,” said Mike, a die-hard Nebraska Cornhuskers fan explaining the importance of the college game.
Aside from geography, Americans also feel a connection to college sports because of the authenticity of the competition.