COLUMN: Sports are still coming to grips with a new reality


DePaul Athletics

DePaul freshman defender Bella Hanisch looks to pass the ball in a game against Valparaiso on Feb. 22.

A year ago, the sports world came to a screeching halt. With growing concerns about the spread of Covid-19, every sports league and organization in America made a collective decision: a work stoppage.

Just like the entire world changed with everyone going into lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus, sports leagues suffered the same fate and are still operating with strict rules and restrictions 12 months later.

It just passed the first anniversary of when NBA star Rudy Gobert made a mockery of the coronavirus by purposefully touching every microphone in a press conference room. His actions, at the time, revealed a lack of understanding of how serious this virus really is.

Two days later, Gobert tested positive for Covid-19. His team, the Utah Jazz, were getting ready to play the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 11, 2020, only for the NBA to pull all the players off the court because of the positive test. A couple of hours later, the league officially postponed its season.

And so began the onslaught of every other sport either canceling or postponing its season. At the time, I was in New York City covering DePaul’s first-round Big East Tournament game against Xavier — the Blue Demons won the game 71-67, moving on to face Villanova in the quarterfinals.  It really didn’t hit me at the time that the NBA being the first league to postpone its season will cause a wave of similar actions by other sports leagues a day later. 

DePaul senior Emma Price goes up for a spike during a match against Marquette. (Marquette Athletics )

But the signs of college basketball taking the same route were already in place. For starters, the Ivy League conference canceled its tournament the prior weekend, raising eyebrows as to whether it was the right decision. 

Then, the same night that DePaul was playing Xavier in the first round, the Big East announced the rest of the conference tournament wouldn’t have any fans in attendance. By then, sitting in Madison Square Garden (MSG), it started to hit that something worse was about to happen.

And on March 12, 2020, that’s when most leagues started to cancel or postpone their season — except for the Big East. As news was rolling in from around the country that the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC and others were canceling their tournaments, the Big East allowed Creighton and St. John’s to take the floor for their quarterfinal game. 

To say it was weird watching that live at MSG while seeing what the other conferences were doing would be an understatement. It wasn’t until halftime that the Big East pulled the plug on its conference tournament. 

Then, the madness began. Every media member scrambled into the press room to hear from commissioner Val Ackerman, and she was asked plenty of questions as to why the tournament wasn’t canceled earlier. Going through the entire process, she reiterated that the decision was made by all the parties involved — school presidents, athletic directors and the conference office. 

As soon as the press conference was over, I wrote my end-of-the season story and had one thought on my mind: getting back to Chicago. 

After leaving MSG for the final time, I ran back to my hotel room, packed my bags, checked out and got an Uber to the airport. I was lucky enough that I was able to change my flight from the 13 to the 12, and was able to get back home that same day.

It’s still surreal to think that I was in the building for one of the last sporting events before the world changed for the next couple of months. 

A year later, the Big East and college basketball completed an unprecedented season that was filled with restrictions, testing, social distancing and plenty of mask wearing. 

Maybe in 2022 we all can get back to our normal lives — whatever the heck that means — and MSG will once again be packed with fans to watch the sport’s greatest conference tournament.