As Willamette University moves classes online for the rest of the semester due to COVID-19, questions are being raised about what will become of future Willamette events. At the beginning of March, athletes at thousands of institutions across the country were looking forward to championships and beginning their spring seasons. However, in the time since, nearly all collegiate athletics have had their seasons or events postponed or canceled. Athletes and sports fans at Willamette and across the country are responding to the news with frustration and sadness.
Last week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) cancelled March Madness outright, after initially planning to continue playing without attendees. March Madness is the Division I men and women’s basketball championship, where 68 teams play in a tournament until there is a champion. The NCAA’s decision to cancel the event was not without precedent, as multiple professional sports organizations worldwide have postponed or cancelled upcoming seasons. On March 12, the day before Willamette’s classes went online, the NCAA decided to cancel all remaining winter sport championships, along with all spring sports’ seasons.
Amidst these decisions, the Northwest Conference (NWC) decided to follow the NCAA’s lead and determined that all sporting events would be played with no fans. Hours later, the NWC came out with a statement on their website, saying: “The Northwest Conference has made the decision to suspend all Northwest Conference spring sport competitions and NWC Championship events, effective immediately, until further notice. This decision has been made in consultation with our President Council and member institutions in an effort to limit the spread of the virus and in the interest of the health and safety of our student-athletes, campus personnel, working and event personnel, and all those who attend Northwest Conference events.”
Willamette Athletics also reiterated the point, posting the news on their own website. On March 14, the NCAA made a statement that said student athletes will retain another year of eligibility. This means that if they choose to stay another term, they will be eligible to play their sport. And although this is good news, the cancellation of this season's sports is still fresh in the minds of many student-athletes. Thousands of student athletes have taken to social media in response to the suspension and cancellation of their seasons, frustrated at this new reality that they are faced with.
Yet, this goes much deeper than college athletes not being able to perform. Sports have a giant influence on our country, and thousands of athletes needed to use their seasons to work towards playing professionally or advance their careers. Millions of people across the world work in sports in some way, shape or form. The cancellation of sports means that these people can’t work, and local businesses that depend on tourism and sporting events in certain cities will have to close. Sports touch people in ways that most other things can’t. This could be seen as strangers finding a common interest in their team, a kid seeing an athlete as a hero or when a crisis occurs, a team giving back to the community that needs help. In simpler terms, sports provide millions of people with entertainment; whether it is the agony of defeat or the thrill of victory, sports bring everyone just a little closer.
Although this is a difficult reality to accept, it is for everyone’s safety and is ultimately the best decision to make in the efforts to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As we adjust to a new lifestyle, reach out to any student athletes that you know and check up on them. It is important to stay positive through this unusual time. Additionally, please stay socially responsible and wash your hands.