This past week has an historic one. Virtually every sporting event in the world is currently either cancelled or on hold. Schools are closed or exclusively offering online courses. Offices are forcing employees to work from home. Stores are selling out of cleaning supplies and personal care items. Flights to parts of the world are cancelled. Countries such as Italy and France have closed all non-essential stores and restaurants. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic with a worldwide response unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
While it all may seem like an overreaction, it’s important to keep perspective on the why of what’s happening. This is all being done in an effort to simply buy time. The chances of stopping the spread of this virus long term are non-existent. And while we can debate the validity of certain statistics or the seriousness of the symptoms among certain segments of the population or mortality rate, it’s not debatable that thousands of people have died from COVID-19. Thousands more are likely to die. All these cancellations, closures and precautions are being taken to simply slow things down and limit that number as much as possible.
There are teams of really smart people working on test kits, treatment options and vaccines. But those people need time to do their work. While they do, the general public needs to do their best to limit the spread and avoid overwhelming the healthcare infrastructure currently in place.
That’s where we’ve begun to feel the impacts on every day life. So many of us now find ourselves with more time at home than we’ve had in years. Our kids aren’t in school. Our significant others aren’t away. We’re all at home together and ironically, there’s nothing to watch on TV and nowhere to go.
High school and college seniors around the country have been robbed of their fairytale endings to seasons. Some have been robbed of seasons in their entirety. Fans are left wanting for conference Tournament revenge games and Cinderella stories in March Madness. It’s hard, sitting at home with literally nothing to watch, not to feel like this virus has somehow deprived us all of something we were owed. Most of all, it’s hard not to feel like the athletes have been stripped of what they are owed for all their hard work for months and years. Players like Bakari Evelyn were robbed of their first ever experience in the NCAA Tournament. Teams like Hofstra, who had locked up an automatic bid, were robbed of their first tournament appearance in nearly two decades.
But we can’t lose perspective. The outcomes could have been much worse than a lost opportunity. Playing the games would have surely led to further spread of the virus above and beyond what we will continue to see anyway. There’s a non-zero chance we would have seen a scenario similar to that of Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz. Gobert played on and infected a teammate, an opponent and a young fan seeking an autograph. In the Big Ten Tournament, Fred Hoiberg, though ultimately not positive for coronavirus, risked the health of his players, coaching staff and everyone else in proximity to him by coaching through illness. Those would not have been the only instances of such. The same athletes heartbroken over missing their final games and practices would have surely played through the illness either knowingly or not (symptoms reported don’t present for roughly five days following exposure and vary in severity even then). The key has always been keeping the outbreak slow enough to buy time for a vaccine. With limited hospital beds, avoiding overflows from the elderly and immunocompromised is critical. And that’s what’s hopefully been done with all the cancellations, delays and limitations on everyday life.
As disappointing and frustrating as losing things like the NCAA Tournament has been, we can’t let that take away from what we were able to get out of this season. The 2019-2020 Iowa Hawkeyes were a hell of a lot of fun to watch. They faced one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in recent memory and passed the test with flying colors. They overcame as much injury adversity as any team in America.
Despite all of that, they exceeded even the most optimistic preseason expectations. They finished the year 20-11 and 11-9 in the best conference in America. They spent almost the entire season ranked inside the top-25. They were a lock for the NCAA Tournament in what was supposed to be a throw away year.
We got to witness perhaps the single greatest individual season in Hawkeyes history as Luka Garza broke the single season scoring record held by John Johnson for 52 years. We watched him grow from a tremendous piece of the puzzle into the Big Ten player of the year and what should be the national player of the year. We were able to see Ryan Kriener step into a monster role as one of only two other Hawkeye big men available. He rose the occasion and will leave as a fan favorite. We watched Bakari Evelyn go from complete unknown to a player we could count on down the stretch to play under control and with cool composure as he hit big shots and massive free throws. And we watched Riley Till go from walk on to scholarship player who could help fill the void left by Jack Nunge, getting a big time bucket at Illinois in crunch time.
There was surely so much more to come, but Hawkeye fans were treated to a tremendous Iowa basketball season that’s worth appreciating in its own right.
And that’s to say nothing of what was accomplished by the women’s team or the wrestlers. Lisa Bluder’s bunch produced the Big Ten’s player of the year for the third consecutive season. Like the men, they spent most of the 2019-2020 season ranked inside the top-25. They finished third in the Big Ten with an impressive 23-7 record. That, by itself, should be celebrated.
And what the wrestling team accomplished cannot be overstated. It’s frustrating to know the Hawkeyes were robbed of what was almost certain to be their 24th national title and first since 2010. Spencer Lee was robbed of his chance to be one of only five wrestlers to ever win four national titles. But he ran the table this year. The Hawkeyes ran the table this year. They were the unanimous #1 team in the country and had one of the most incredible home dual schedules in memory. It was a phenomenal year on nearly every level.
We’ve lost so much to the coronavirus already. Our lives are being altered for the foreseeable future. History is being re-written. But amidst all the headlines, it’s important to remember that we’re doing it for the greater good of those in need and that we’ve all been able to enjoy one of the most successful Iowa athletics years in history. It truly has been a joy to watch all these teams compete. While we didn’t get the endings we were hoping for, the ride was certainly worth the price of admission.
Thank you seniors. Thank you Hawkeyes. We miss you already.