Column: Missing March Madness – A Sports Fan’s Perspective

There is one event every year that gives me the ultimate high as a sports fan. No, it’s not the beauty and tradition of the Masters. It’s not the spectacle and massive production of the Super Bowl. It’s not even the excitement and intrigue of the World Series.

The one event that I would sacrifice all others for is the annual NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament –  “March Madness.”

The year 2020 is unlike any year I have lived. This is my last semester at Liberty University, and I have looked forward to graduation since November, not because I am “done” with this place, but because I am excited for what the future holds. Now every day seems like a new trial, waiting to see when the fog of the unknown will be lifted.

This fog, better known as the COVID-19 pandemic, is not only interrupting my academic life and my professional life, but it has also put my personal life at a standstill, with sports a part of the collateral damage.

I am a huge basketball fan. I am the epitome of the term “sports junkie,” with a strong loyalty to a team for just about every sport that I watch.

I have been a fan of the North Carolina Tar Heels for just about as long as I can remember. The first time I can remember watching a full UNC game on the TV was the 2009 National Championship when Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Danny Green demolished Michigan State for the school’s sixth national title.

Since then my loyalty has been unwavering (even though the Liberty Flames are becoming quite the mid-major) and my hatred for Duke grows every single day. In fact, on March 11, I was in attendance of the second round of the ACC tournament watching my Tar Heels with two of my closest friends when we got the announcement: an NBA player had tested positive for the coronavirus and the league had suspended their season.

I looked to my friends and told them, “I don’t think I’m going to like where this is going.”

I have never hated being right more. That game we were in attendance at in Greensboro, North Carolina, was the last full game played of the 2020 season, as the NCAA announced they had canceled the tournament that was to start just a week later.

With that announcement, my heart dropped. There would be no filling out 100 brackets in hopes of being “the expert” on this year’s tournament field.

No Cinderella stories about magical runs by teams that have no business being there in the first place. No watching nonstop basketball from Thursday at noon till Sunday at 11 p.m. with 48 games to be played in those 96 hours. No programs like Dayton and San Diego State proving that their slight schedule meant nothing when they proved they were there to win. No Kansas vs. Baylor heavyweight rematch. No sleepers, crazy finishes, and blown calls, no long range 3’s, and no “One Shining Moment” music with highlights featuring plays and players from every team. None of it.

All of these things flew through my mind faster than a 16-seed losing a lead to a 1-seed (Sorry UMBC).

It didn’t actually hurt until Thursday rolled around because that was the day the madness was supposed to begin. Not having any form of magic in March in my life this year hurts.

I know the virus is going to pass. We will move forward to a more normal life and sports will return. But when it does, I plan on enjoying the tournament just like any other year, and maybe even a little bit more. Knowing what I’ve missed out on in 2020 will make the tournament all the more magical when it returns.

Riddick is a sports reporter.

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