On March 12, minutes before tip-off of the 2020 men’s American Athletic Conference tournament, commissioner Mark Aresco announced that the tournament would be canceled immediately, due to the recent spread and concerns of the COVID-19 virus. The AAC was not the only conference that canceled their tournaments because of the virus.
The Atlantic Coast Conference, which holds multiple North Carolina universities, two of which being national powerhouses, also cancelled its conference tournaments. This not only affects each university, but all together has a huge impact on the state of North Carolina.
The East Carolina University men’s basketball team (11-20, 5-13 AAC) had already traveled to Fort Worth, Texas and was set to face off against the University of Memphis (21-10, 10-8 AAC) that night at 10 p.m. Unfortunately, the Pirates had to return back to Greenville, adding more heartbreak, for fans and players, to yet another season dogged with disappointment.
“We were definitely upset, despite the fact that we understood that our chances of making a run in the tournament were slim,” Minges Maniacs president C.J. Shaeffer said.
At one point in the season, the Pirates went on a four-game winning streak, and a few games later became 8-8 following a big win against Southern Methodist University (19-11, 9-9 AAC), the sixth best team in the AAC. Although the Pirates were showing promise, from then on they failed to earn back-to-back wins and experienced a seesaw-like season going on a pattern of losing three games then winning one for the last 15 games of the regular season.
The Pirates were one of the worst shooting teams statistically in the conference. They finished 10th in the conference in field goal percentage, shooting 46.7% from the field, and finished last in three-point percentage shooting 28.1% from deep. As a result, the Pirates found themselves in four close games where they lost by five points or less.
Even though the season was ultimately a dissapointment, there are a few bright spots that the Pirates have to look forward to - the brightest one being that the Pirates are very young. The Pirates had no seniors on the roster and should be returning every player. That should give them more chemistry and confidence as they continue to improve for next season.
Another one of those bright spots is sophomore forward Jayden Gardner. Gardner passed the 1,000-point mark for his career while averaging 19.7 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game, finishing the season as the leading scorer in the AAC. Because of his incredible season, Gardner was named AAC second-team all-conference.
Many fans were not able to support the Pirates and other North Carolina teams due to the cancellations of March Madness for the COVID-19 virus. Understandably, this affected the players and coaches tremendously, but also affected a large number of fans of North Carolina basketball.
The state of North Carolina has historically been home to thousands of loyal basketball fans, Hall of Fame professional players, and all-time great college basketball programs. To have this taken away, regardless of the reason, affects a lot of people.
One group that is affected by this is the Minges Maniacs, who are members of the student section for ECU athletic teams. The Minges Maniacs sport their own section of the stands and are frequently seen with humorous signs and loud cheers for the Pirates.
“March Madness is a huge deal to me and all my friends,” Shaeffer said. “For me, March Madness is my favorite sporting event of the year. The excitement and unpredictability of the tournament makes it fun and unlike any other major sports tournament.”
The popularity of March Madness is undeniable. According to WalletHub.com, 19.6 million people watched the 2019 National Championship game between Virginia and Texas Tech, which was an 23% increase from the 2018 game. In addition, 688,753 fans attended the 2019 men’s basketball tournament.
Also, there are $13.3 billion worth of corporate losses because of unproductive workers during March Madness.
Many people are affected because it is their favorite sporting event. Others because it brings back childhood memories and stories that have the power to inspire thousands.
“March Madness has been one of my most loved yearly sources of entertainment since I was young,” Minges Maniacs member Brady Gelezinsky said. “Basketball is my favorite sport, college basketball in particular with how deeply rooted this state is in the game and with all of the big local universities. Seeing all of the upsets and Cinderella stories come to life is some of the best that sports has to offer in my opinion.”
Despite the disappointment of missing March Madness, it was an informed decision made by those who care about the health and well being of both athletes and fans. There will always be next year.