DETROIT – Wednesday evening was one of the craziest sports nights in history, and it had nothing to do with the outcome of any games.
The entire country has been following the spread of the coronavirus for weeks. Some took it seriously, others brushed it off as “like the flu” or rolled their eyes at the idea that this is something to worry about.
Well, it has everyone’s attention now.
Universities bar in-person classes
One of the first signs that Wednesday would be absolutely bonkers came from Michigan State University, which announced late in the morning that in-person classes would be canceled in favor of an online-only approach. What should have caught your eye: the change was put in place for six weeks, effectively shutting down the MSU classrooms for the remainder of the school year.
Imagine being a senior at Michigan State. Tuesday might have been their last time in a college classroom, and they never even knew it.
It didn’t take long for other universities to follow suit.
Within the next few hours, Michigan Tech, Central Michigan, Toledo, Wayne State, Oakland, Michigan, U of M Dearborn and Eastern Michigan shut down their classrooms. Wayne State and Toledo even extended spring break.
Students across the state were encouraged to leave campus and go home. Who knew the phrase “social distancing” was so niche to the colleges-closing-due-to-pandemic game?
College basketball feels impact
As is so often the case, the Ivy League was out in front of the rest of the country, setting social media aflame by canceling its conference tournament and awarding regular-season champion Yale its bid to the Big Dance.
OK, that league has only had a conference tournament for a few years. The sport can go on, right?
When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine came out and declared any NCAA Tournament games in the state would be played without fans, it felt like the kind of news that could have a domino effect. Ohio not only hosts the high-profile First Four in Dayton, but also has first-round action scheduled in Cleveland this season.
Around the same time, other sporting events began to feel the effects. The College Basketball Invitational (for teams not quite good enough to make the NIT) was canceled. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Golden State Warriors announced they would play without fans that night.
Big Ten and NCAA tournaments
The Big Ten Tournament is one of my favorite events every year, and when the conference confirmed Wednesday that the games would proceed as planned, I began the trek to Indianapolis.
About 90 minutes into the drive, while stopping for gas somewhere south of Toledo, my phone was flooded with alerts. Among them: the NCAA Tournament would be played in empty stadiums, the Final Four would be moved to a smaller venue, the Big Ten Tournament would not allow fans and the Big Ten Tournament would still allow fans.
Obviously, the final two were most pressing for me, filling up at a Kroger gas station somewhere in northern Ohio. For the better part of an hour, it seemed like nobody really knew what was happening.
If this game winner happened this March pic.twitter.com/ngJSFQH7mM— Zach Linfield (@ZachLinfield) March 11, 2020
The Big Ten was in a unique position. Four fan bases were already at the arena for their first-round games, and the other 10 were likely in a similar holding pattern, just waiting for news. I didn’t want to drive four hours to Indianapolis to watch Nebraska only to drive four hours back. Watching the Cornhuskers from afar is brutal enough.
Hours later, the inevitable happened. The Big Ten reversed course and followed the NCAA’s lead. It only seems fitting that, in one of the league’s craziest seasons, Northwestern and Nebraska were two of the last teams to play in front of fans.
Michigan football isn’t exactly top of mind with the NCAA Tournament and MLB Opening Day right around the corner, but the Wolverines began a trend in shutting down not only the spring game, but all in-person recruiting, including coaches trips and official visits.
Ohio State made the same declaration later that evening, and schools around the country began to do the same. College football recruiting never stops. Anything that can put the lifeblood of the sport on hold should be taken seriously.
Trump announces travel ban
Moving away from the sporting world for a moment, everyone turned their attention to President Donald Trump’s 9 p.m. statement on the pandemic.
He announced a strict ban on travel to Europe, excluding the UK, for the next 30 days. There will be exceptions for certain Americans who need to return to the country, but the vast majority of European travel will be shut down for a month.
For sports fans, that wasn’t even one of the most unusual announcements of the night.
Everything gets weird
If you were asleep before 9 p.m. Wednesday, you missed one of the wildest nights in Twitter history, beginning with the announcement that Tom Hanks -- yes, Tom Hanks -- and Rita Wilson tested positive for coronavirus. They reportedly got sick in Australia.
Minutes later, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first positive test among high-profile athletes. It took no time at all for the NBA to completely suspend its season.
Twitter exploded with a video of Gobert, who just days before his positive test had finished a press conference by mocking the coronavirus, making a big show of not touching anything as he stood only to turn back around and rub all the microphones down with both hands before jogging off.
Video shows Rudy Gobert, an NBA player who reportedly tested positive for coronavirus, touching microphones with his hands after speaking with reporters on Monday https://t.co/ekxauQo8KV pic.twitter.com/pd7Q9vJkCz— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 12, 2020
Gobert thought it was funny to downplay the coronavirus, but now it’s a global pandemic and he’s the NBA’s Patient Zero who led to the season being suspended.
While Gobert was taking over our phones, the Nebraska-Indiana game was on TV -- fans and all. Not only were the Cornhuskers playing with two members of the football team because their roster is so depleted, but head coach Fred Hoiberg was hunched over for half the game, clearly sick.
He left the game during the second half and was taken to a hospital. Considering everything going on in the world, Nebraska players were quarantined at the stadium until doctors could figure out what was going on with Hoiberg.
A positive test for him might have shut down the Big Ten Tournament completely, considering his team had spent the last several hours on the court and in the locker room, as well as having physical contact with Indiana, who advanced to Thursday.
But fortunately, it was announced Hoiberg doesn’t have coronavirus, but influenza. Nebraska players were released from quarantine, and the tournament is currently expected to continue in an empty arena.
Between leagues getting canceled, events being played in empty buildings, Hoiberg nearly passing out on the bench and the Gobert saga, we essentially watched the sporting world crumble before our eyes. It was a crazy evening, and with the coronavirus still very much a threat, there’s surely more to come.