By Alec White/El Inde
For the first time in its 81-year history, the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and I witnessed part of the shutdown of basketball and sports firsthand.
As a sports journalist for the Arizona Daily Star, I was in Las Vegas covering the Pac-12 Tournament and at the start of the tournament, I had no idea of what was about to happen. In the blink of an eye, my life went from gearing up to travel to the NCAA Tournament to what it is today; I don’t know when the next sports game will be played.
On March 11, Arizona played Washington in the first round of the tournament. Precautions were put into place throughout the arena before the tournament began, including extra hand sanitizer stations and locker rooms that were closed to the media. The first few games on that day went on without a hitch.
But throughout the day, worry grew across the country as the spread of the coronavirus became more prevalent. Shortly after Arizona’s game, Pac-12 officials released a statement to the media that no fans would be allowed in the arena for the rest of the weekend.
“At the end of the day, that’s what counts the most: to protect our players and student athletes to the best of our ability,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said during the press conference. “And I’m sure that that decision was one that was hard to make.”
At the time, fans inside the arena watching the next game of the day were unaware of this development. Word spread on social media about it, though it wasn’t until later that evening when the arena P.A. announcer officially told fans.
My colleague Justin Spears and I recorded a podcast for the Arizona Daily Star and had this conversation:
Justin: “Now, will there be a game tomorrow? Where do you put the percent at, Alec?”
Me: “The percent for a game tomorrow, I would say I would go 60% for a game tomorrow.”
Justin: “That’s not convincing, man.”
Later that night, the avalanche of sports news hit. NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus prompting the NBA to immediately suspend the season. At that point, it would only be a matter of time until other sports leagues followed suit.
The next morning, college basketball tournaments around the country would be canceled one-by-one, including the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournament. I received an email from Pac-12 officials stating that the conference’s sports would also suspended through the rest of the academic school year.
Seeing all of these sports leagues get canceled and then having to report on it for the newspaper was as surreal an experience as I’ve ever had as a journalist. The NCAA Tournament is my favorite sporting event and it would have been a dream to go and cover the games Arizona played in.
Life today is different. I am working from home as directed by the Star. I have been working from home since I got back from covering the Pac-12 Tournament and it’s a challenge, for sure.
It’s harder to find stories to write about, specifically because sports reporters often have the benefit of having scheduled games and press conferences to help them generate story ideas. Another difficulty have been furloughs the Arizona Daily Star has also had to implement.
“The way things worked at the Star is every employee has been asked to basically take unpaid days equivalent to two weeks off between March until the end of June,” said Ryan Finley, sports editor of the Arizona Daily Star.
Finley, my boss, has helped me navigate these challenging times. While stories have been harder to come by, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been creative. I’ve recorded podcasts with Spears via Zoom, done in-home video reporting and am now working on a project involving high school football in Tucson.
I’m grateful for my job at the Arizona Daily Star. I love what I get to do with U of A athletics and I hope that this can continue for some time despite the uncertainty that’s going on right now. My life’s changed a lot since I haven’t been able to cover sports, but I feel like I’ll come out stronger on the other side.