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Howe: Sports Fans Lose Their Escape But Student-Athletes Deprived of Dreams

March 13, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

Note: After this column was published, the NCAA announced it would be providing eligibility relief for spring athletes.

IOWA CITY, Iowa – We can no longer escape. It’s unknown when that passageway may again open. It’s a helpless feeling.

We seek out sports for refuge from life’s everyday struggles. Now we must look elsewhere.

We learned Thursday that one of the country’s biggest annual competitions, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, was canceled as a precaution for COVID-19, the Coronavirus. There would be no filling of brackets, a ritual in which even casual followers of athletics partake.

The news came on the heels of conference tournaments being shut down. Then all college competitions through the rest of the academic year were ended. On- and off-campus recruiting was halted. Friday morning, the Big Ten prohibited all team activities until at least April 6, meaning Iowa would not be kicking off spring football practice when scheduled on March 25.

The NBA tipped off the trend Wednesday by postponing games until further notice. The NHL, MLB and other professional sports leagues followed suit. Friday morning, The Masters golf tournament scheduled for early next month on Georgia was postponed and NASCAR postponed this week’s race in Atlanta.

They’re all doing the right thing. It’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s not the common cold or the flu. We don’t know how bad it could get if we carried on as usual, but scientists and researchers, people smarter than me on the subject, warn that it could be catastrophic.

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I Tweeted Thursday from my Indianapolis-area hotel that I was uneasy about attending Iowa’s Big Ten Tournament game later in the day at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. At the time, it had yet to been canceled. I would have gone and done my job, but the concern of the unknown and what was happening around the world occupied my thoughts.

Sports media represents a small portion of the population affected by the virus. Businesses expecting revenue from March Madness will be hit hard and the financial ramifications touch millions of people.

While I sympathize with all citizens affected by the cancelations, I feel special sadness for the student-athletes, most of whom see their playing days end after college. They train tirelessly to compete in four seasons during a five-year window. They can’t get that back.

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Or can they?

It’s been suggested that the NCAA extend eligibility for these student-athletes. While it would require adjustment, like expanding scholarship limits, it’s the right thing to do.

Some of these folks will choose to move on to “real life” if they know they won’t compete professionally with their degrees in hand. However, provide those student-athletes desiring to play more that chance of returning. If they’ve achieved diplomas, let them enroll in graduate school.

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Maybe Iowa 125-pound wrestler Spencer Lee, a junior, decides against competing for a fifth year. He should be allowed the opportunity of becoming the Hawkeyes’ first four-time national champion and just the fifth man to ever accomplish the feat, however.

That’s not to put Lee ahead of any other Iowa athletes. He just illustrates the extreme of what could be lost should the situation not be addressed. By giving him his opportunity, the door for the men’s and women’s basketball teams competing in the same amount of NCAA Tournaments they thought they could earn also remains open. The same holds true for the baseball and softball teams in the College World Series, and all the other sports striving for the top prize.

Sacrifices must be made. As mentioned above, more student-athletes will be receiving scholarships with seniors being retained and freshmen arriving.

The money is there. If you need more, have the high-paid coaches and administrators kick in some of their salaries to offset the cost. They should be willing to do that.

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