Coronavirus shocks athletes and fans

With the pandemic spread of COVID-19, athletic seasons have come to a halt. 

Featured image illustration by Elisabeth Oster. Logo courtesy of NCAA.

Growing up in a zealous, athletic family, I’ve attended more sporting events than I can keep track of. As the baby of the family, I watched my siblings compete at both high school and collegiate levels—you can bet without a doubt that I was one of the loudest fans in the stadium. I love the atmosphere. I love the roars of the crowd, adrenaline pumping through my body, the elated feeling when they win, and the storming of the courts over an upset. 

Now, things will be different for me as a fan, for the NCAA, and all college athletes with the precautions leaders are taking in regard to the Coronavirus outbreak. Just as the spring fever of March Madness begins, the NCAA made an announcement on March 11 that the NCAA basketball tournament will continue, but without the attendance of the fans. 

UPDATE: After publication, NCAA announced the cancellation of the reaming basketball tournaments.

According to a statement from NCAA president Mark Emmert, there will be “only essential staff and limited family in attendance.” From a fan standpoint, I was in utter disbelief as there is no comparison to experiencing a game in person, cheering so loud you wake up the next morning with the voice of a chain-smoker. Sure, you can scream at your TV, but does it really have the same effect? No. Because nothing can compare to being 100 feet away from your favorite team or player. I’ve seen it on my nephews’ faces. They love watching the Iowa Men’s basketball team, but the interactions they make with the players when they’re there in person is night and day compared to the interaction they get through a screen.  

Not only does this viral outbreak affect NCAA basketball tournaments, it is also affecting all levels of sporting events nationwide. Ivy League announced they are canceling their spring athletic competitions for the remainder of the academic year, and all Big Ten Championship events were canceled as well. This reaches a new level of disappointment for fans, but a whole new level of heartbreak for athletes.

The Iowa Women’s Basketball team could potentially be hosting a few games for the NCAA tournament, and for freshman Gabbie Marshall, the experience of playing in her first tournament chasing a national title won’t be at all what she expected it to be like. She’s glad that safety and wellness is a priority, but she hopes it won’t come to extreme measures. 

“People live for these moments, like Big Ten tournaments, NBA games, NCAA/March Madness, and I feel like it should still happen, but it should just be a personal choice…canceling the whole tournament is a little excessive,” Marshall said.

However, Marshall admitted after seeing NBA players testing positive for COVID-19 in the news, she became more aware of how fast the disease is growing and the seriousness of the outbreak in regard to athletics. 

“Honestly, it seems to get worse by the day, so it just seems so unreal to me,” Marshall said.

The Iowa Women’s gymnastics team will also be hosting their last home meet and senior night on March 13. As a senior competing for their last time in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena, it won’t quite be the same for Clair Kaji. 

“It’s saddening to not be able to have the fans in the arena with us, because we don’t just do gymnastics for ourselves and our team, but we do it for them,” Kaji said. “But, health always comes first, and I’m glad the university and administration is taking the necessary precautions in these unknown times to put safety above everything else. Hawkeye nation, we are truly thankful for your energy, love and unwavering support.  As always, go Hawks!”

Among the disappointment of an empty arena, some of the Iowa men’s basketball players have found ways to combat such an earth-shaking outbreak with a little banter. UI Seniors Riley Till and Ryan Kriener took to Twitter to share their thoughts on the quietness of stands. They said, if the tournament were to be canceled, Iowa calls “dibs” on the national title. 

Till’s mom, Shelley Till, even cracked a joke on Twitter, announcing that she will be accepting adoption applications for those who want to attend the games to cheer on the Hawks.

With the precautions taken to protect against COVID-19, I have to ask, how will it affect these student athletes, especially those who won’t get another chance? How will it affect the fans? What will happen months from now? And, what will athletics come to? 

As a sports lover, I’m extremely disappointed that these tournaments and events won’t nearly attest to the showmanship they have portrayed in past years. However, I’ll be uplifted again when I get to watch from the stands as some of my favorite players and teams compete. 

In all reality, this is a crisis, but it is one that won’t last forever (fingers crossed). College and professional athletics will resume when the time comes. It’s not goodbye, it’s a see you later.

In the meantime, seriously, wash your hands. 

This situation is fluid and will be developing after publication.

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