A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Billy Reed: We have no choice but to make best of it and hope that, in the end, coronavirus does not win

Broadway has gone dark, a couple of Disney theme parks have shut down, and professional sports leagues have ended their seasons prematurely. Even more concerning, hospitals are being overwhelmed, the airlines industry is on life support, the Stock Market is tanking, and our government seems completely befuddled by what to do about this worldwide scourge known as the Coronavirus.

To the shock and dismay of many, especially in these parts, the NCAA has canceled its basketball tournaments for both men and women. It’s almost impossible for many of us to imagine March without the men’s and women’s tournaments. They are an integral part of our culture. We can’t even turn to the NBA, NHL, or major-league baseball for diversion because they, too, are curtailing seasons and canceling playoffs.

The world is experiencing a crisis unlike we’ve ever seen, and America is not immune from it, no matter how much some of our fellow citizens might think we are somehow superior to all other nations. This group – a minority, thank heavens – is the product of the dumbing down of our country. They are the best arguments for improving our educational system.

My history with the NCAA tournament began in March, 1962, when I covered two first-round games in the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, led by Bobby Rascoe and Darrel Carrier defeated Detroit, 90-81, and Butler squeaked past Bowling Green, 66-65.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

That was the beginning of a 40-year journey in which the NCAA tournament owned my every March. I covered 21 Final Fours. I went to at least 40 states to cover tournament games at every level. Only the Kentucky Derby has given me more fun, good stories, and lifelong friends.

But now the Coronavirus has done to the tournament what couldn’t be done by point-shaving scandals, Vietnam and other wars, Watergate, the civil-rights movement, AIDs and other health scares, the advent of hip-hop, and Donald Trump. For 2020, there will be no buzzer-beaters, epic upsets, historic performances, or hysterical announcers.

From what I can gather from all the conflicting reports on TV, the best way to fight the virus is to stay out of large crowds, wash our hands frequently, try not to touch our faces, and don’t shake hands with anybody. I’m following these directions because of my age and a compromised immune system from another disease. That puts me in the highest risk group, and I’m not about to tempt fate.

The medical crisis has led to a business crisis. Everybody is suffering — restaurants, hotels, airlines, schools, even churches. The more businesses suffer, the more they cut or downsize jobs. In one way or another, the Coronavirus pandemic has shaken America – and the rest of the world – more than anything we have experienced except world wars.

At this point, students who studied to be doctors and scientists are far more important than students who could dunk a basketball. The ones who stayed in school and got their degrees are more important than the “one-and-done” superstars who used college only as a stopover on the way to fat NBA contracts. There’s a message here, a reminder that colleges and universities should never allow athletics to become as important as academics.

It would be wonderful if an antidote for the virus was discovered by a former college athlete who used his or her scholarship to become a doctor or scientist. That would be cool, right? It’s unlikely, but it could happen. Anything seems possible in these confusing times.

Difficult as it may be to believe, some good may come from this, provided that colleges and universities use the cancellations as a reason to thoroughly examine themselves and change things that need to be changed.

As it does with everything, the love of money, which the Bible tells us is the root of all evil, has twisted big-time college sports into something it was never meant to be – a twilight zone where cheaters, educators, predators, and young athletes uneasily share the same space despite disparate values and goals.

So how will the season be remembered?

I suppose the NCAA will simply put “Vacated” where the name of the 2020 champion should be. Perhaps each of the polls will declare their last No. 1 pick to be the national champion. For the fans, the arguments will go on forever. Was Dayton really that good? Was San Diego State a legitimate contender or just a phony built on an easy schedule? And so forth, ad nauseum.

I will miss it, but I will try to make the best of it. I have a lot of books waiting to be read and a lot of movies I intend to watch. Perhaps I will do some writing about, oh, politics. Or contact old friends. I will watch the news to keep up with the latest developments in the Coronavirus epic. Naturally, prayer and spirituality always are helpful, especially in the darkest of times.

I can tell you now that I was going to pick Kansas to win the championship, with Gonzaga, Kentucky, and Dayton joining the Jayhawks in the Final Four. The Jayhawks were the most consistently good team I saw during the season, and they had the talent, the coaching, the confidence, and the will to go all the way.

But maybe they would have been shocked in the early rounds by a team from, oh, the Ivy League. We’ll never know. But among the fan bases and the media, the speculation won’t die anytime soon. But what we all hope will die, sooner rather than later, is the threat posed by Coronovirus. Everything else doesn’t really matter.

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