I arrived at the Barclays Center bright and early at 9:30 for my media credential. I wanted to explore the arena and all the behind the scene stuff for the A10 tournament. Many media outlets from various cities were arriving, most talking about the events of yesterday’s events of disallowing fans from the conference tournaments. Myself as well as others were constantly refreshing twitter, trying to get the scoop on what was happening. Eventually, many tweeted that the A10 Tournament was to be going on as normal without fans. Enough closure for now.
All was well during warm ups. Players were warming up and having a good time, happy to be in Brooklyn playing for a tourney title. Music was bumping from the DJ, media members were chatting it up with other media, and players were dunking and had a pep in their step. We later learned that 150 fans of families from each team were allowed to come watch, which helped to get some sort of college basketball atmosphere in there.
Knowing that the Green Machine (George Mason pep band) did not make the trip, we were all surprised to see The Peppas (VCU pep bad) and the UMass Pep Band had arrived. The Peppas were jamming, and the UMass band was rocking out Enter Sandman. The PA announcer called the teams onto the court for last minute warm ups. I thought “Even with no fans, this is still a pretty decent atmosphere with the media, bands, and some fans. This might be a great tournament after all.” Then, this tweet happened…
It was the first shoe to drop. I remember sitting there on press row, just shocked that it has already begun. Still, even 10 minutes later, the players kept warming up and the bands kept rocking. There was just an unrest felt on press row. Everyone looked and felt uncomfortable. It also was very depressing sitting there knowing that the A10 was going to be next at some point. Even worse, the UMass and VCU players had no clue. They were just out there having fun about to play in the second round of the tournament. No one out on the court knew what was going on. Soon after, more tweets came in about the SEC and AAC canceling. You were just waiting for it, like the feeling of getting blown out in the game and realizing that you just were not going to win.
Still, there was 2:30 on the clock until tip off. VCU had formed up for the starting lineups. UMass finished their warm up and was heading back to the bench. Suddenly, the Minutemen all stopped at around half court. They were looking over past the VCU bench. We had no clue what was going on. Then, UMass players started to walk past their bench. Mike Rhodes went over to the VCU crowd and thanked all the fans for coming out. The gut punch had not happened in me yet, but it was about to because then all of a sudden I heard the PA announcer mutter the words that I will never forget:
“Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention please. The Atlantic 10 Tournament has been canceled. Please drive home safely.”
That was it. Literally, just three sentences and it was over. No further information was given. You almost did not believe it, but sure enough, the rest of the media outlets were packing up. No words.
Fittingly, the Peppas and UMass Pep Band continued to play and improve the spirits of anyone that was there, including themselves. Cheerleading teams took pictures. Even VCU took a team picture on the court. It was all surreal.
From this point, I had left because I wanted to make sure I could get a flight home. Nonetheless, other conferences began to cancel as well. The final shoe dropped later this evening with the NCAA canceling March Madness. I know how everyone is feeling because I am feeling the same. But right now, I am thankful for this conference and my team and school, the Dayton Flyers. I am thankful for college basketball because you truly do not know what tomorrow brings. I am extremely thankful to cover this conference and all the teams in it. The A10 is a great conference with very dedicated college basketball fans with outstanding, supportive programs. We may not know what tomorrow holds for our country with this virus, but let’s all be thankful for what college basketball and our team has given us. Because who knows when we might get it back when it can easily be taken from us so so quickly.