The spread of COVID-19 has dramatically shaken up the sports world as professional and amateur leagues suspended or canceled play world-wide.
“It’s one of the most unique occurrences in sports history,” said Andy Fee, Long Beach State athletics director.
In an attempt to limit the spread, but keep the players’ hard work spent during the season at interest, the Big West Conference first announced it would host the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments without spectators on March 10, shortly before the first round tip-off at 6 p.m.
“I’m sure [Cal Poly] had family drive down to watch the game, so they had the same exact disadvantage, or advantage if you want to call it,” sophomore guard Justina King said after Tuesday’s loss in the first round of the women’s Big West tournament. “I wouldn’t say it necessarily affected our performance basketball-wise, I think it was just a weird thing in general.”
The usually lively Walter Pyramid eerily echoed with the voices of basketball players calling out defensive assignments and yelling during free throws on the sidelines, which is normally drowned out by the school band and cheers from the small, but engaged crowds.
“It happened so quickly,” women’s basketball head coach Jeff Cammon said. “We found out at 3:30, [or] 3 o’clock, so I don’t think we really had a chance to process it. I know we had conversations, but you don’t really have a chance to process something like this.”
But not every team at the Beach was given the opportunity of closure at the end of its season, or even given a chance to get halfway through, like the women’s basketball team (13-17, 8-8 Big West) was.
Currently No. 12 in the nation, the Dirtbags (10-5) have been steadily climbing up the college baseball rankings after one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory in 2019.
Fee told the 49er that the Dirtbags were approved for travel to New Orleans, Louisiana to face No. 23 Tulane, but a few hours after take-off head coach Eric Valenzuela would be notified mid-flight by Fee that the series had been canceled and all play was suspended.
Fee and Valenzuela had spoken, “in the evening [before flying the next morning]. It happened so fast. There was no guarantee, we talked about the possibility [of having to come home],” Fee said.
Fee and the rest of the nine Big West schools would soon find out mid-day March 12 that play would be indefinitely suspended for all spring conference and non-conference competition, “effective immediately,” after a vote by the Big West executive committee.
It was followed by an announcement the next day that all competition is officially canceled.
“People are working really hard,” Fee said, “but it’s not worth someone’s health.”
Looking to capture the first three-peat in men’s volleyball since UCLA to win four in a row in 1981-84, No. 4 Long Beach State (10-1) announced its high-profile matchup vs No. 3 UCSB was canceled six hours before beginning.
“Anyone that tells you your season is over before competing for a championship is disappointing,” Fee said.
But even for teams lower in the Big West standings, the men’s basketball team (11-21, 6-10 Big West) scrapped its way through the end of the season to earn the final spot into the Big West tournament, only to have it canceled while the team was warming up in the Honda Center in Anaheim.
“It’s minute-to-minute at times,” Fee said about the fluidity of the situation, noting the disappointment among head coach Dan Monson and the players.
For the first time since 1939, there will be no March Madness, which is arguably the biggest sporting event aside from the Super Bowl.
Senior track and field star Jason Smith was set to be the first Long Beach State athlete to compete in two separate events (long and high jump) but had his dreams dashed while preparing in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“It’s not easy to have to tell coach Sythe and Jason Smith that they have to come home. We know how hard our student-athletes work,” Fee said. “One of the worst parts of the job is making that phone call.”
The NCAA has since announced, “eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division 1 student-athletes who participated in spring sports,” which will be discussed and worked on in the, “coming days and weeks,” a release read.
With many athletes once seeming to have had their last game stolen away, there is now a chance to rewrite their final play, which was best described by redshirt senior softball (13-12) catcher Abby Lockman.
“I’m not ready to be done,” she said after the NCAA’s final collegiate game played in spring 2020 against Boston University March 12. “I don’t think any of the student-athletes are done.”
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