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Let them play another year

Johnson City Press • Mar 15, 2020 at 7:15 AM

So much for that blue and gold opportunity. The East Tennessee State University men’s basketball team’s seat in the big dance was upended by anxieties over the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Having won the Southern Conference tournament on Monday, the Buccaneers were assured of a NCAA tournament bid for the second time in head coach Steve Forbes’ five-season tenure. ETSU players and fans were ready for a party on the national stage. But that bubble burst three days later when the NCAA canceled the tournament.

Gatherings of all sorts are on hold across the country — from similar large sporting events to local church services and government meetings. We don’t yet know whether such event cancellations and postponements will be an effective strategy against COVID-19, but that unknown factor is precisely why organizations are being so cautious.

The economic repercussions of the precautions already are apparent, and they are likely to grow as more cases occur. Restaurants, retail stores, theaters and other businesses that rely on public access are suffering. Beyond the obvious health impact, paychecks and livelihoods are in jeopardy.

So in the grand scheme of things, a basketball tournament might seem to be the least of our worries. But the effects are all too personal for ETSU seniors Tray Boyd, Jeromy Rodriguez, Isaiah Tisdale, Joe Hughley and Lucas N’Guessan.

If Forbes has his way, these seniors — and those across the nation in similar shoes — would have the chance to play another year for another shot at the tournament.

The NCAA has extended eligibility for seniors in spring sports, whose seasons abruptly ended this week for the same reason, but as of this writing, the organization has not done the same for basketball.

It should. For most college players, playing in the tournament is akin to the Super Bowl. Few will see more glory in the NBA. Dreams have been crushed by unfortunate timing, and the NCAA should have the compassion to at least give the seniors the chance to get back in the spotlight.

And the extension should apply across the board — to all NCAA teams, not just conference and tournament champions; otherwise such teams would have an unfair advantage of experience.

Fans deserve this, too. Given how far COVID-19 seems destined to reach into our daily lives, anything joyful is worth a change in policy.

Everyone needs to take this health crisis with the proper level of concern, but we hope Americans will not live in fear in the coming weeks — possibly months. We must find ways to live, work and enjoy each other while still taking the universal precautions recommended by the CDC to prevent the virus from spreading.

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