By: Alex Willis

On March 12, the NCAA announced the Division I (DI) basketball tournament would be canceled due the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, the NCAA was going to allow the tournament to proceed just without fans.

The NCAA didn’t just cancel the tournament, but it canceled all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships for all divisions. This brought the Knights’ basketball seasons to an end.

As COVID-19 became a growing concern many other leagues, including the MLB, NBA, and NHL, postponed their seasons. Many colleges opted to cancel their seasons before the NCAA made its decision.

After Scott Davenport, the Bellarmine men’s basketball head coach, heard the initial decision made by the NCAA, he knew how the COVID-19 pandemic would have an impact on Knights Nation and the community.

“To have the NCAA Tournament without fans immediately got my attention to how serious the Coronavirus was impacting all areas of our country,” he said. “ I felt horrible for our players especially our seniors, their families and our entire university community that supports our program in such a tremendous fashion.”

Chancellor Dugan, women’s head coach, said she can’t imagine how some feel because it might have been their only time ever making it to the NCAA tournament.

“I know how hard it is for all the student athletes and coaches who have worked so hard for the chance to play in the NCAA tournament,” she said.

Alex Cook, a senior forward for the Knights, found out about the cancellation of the tournament through Twitter. “It has been devastating overall because we have worked so hard all season,” said Cook. “Especially looking back over the past four years, I worked so hard to get to where I am as a senior, just for the tournament to get canceled.”

“This tournament is just so important to so many people throughout the country, I never thought it would actually be canceled,” Mikayala Berry, a senior guard, said.

Senior guard Katie Downey, said she felt heartbroken for the seniors who didn’t get to finish out their seasons.

“I was lucky enough to have closure with basketball when we fell short in the conference semi-finals,” Downey said.

“You work hard your entire life to hopefully be lucky enough to become a college athlete,” Downey said. “After college, very few make it professionally, so senior year you are literally counting down the games, practices and workouts until you put on your jersey for the final time.”

Davenport said he thinks the NCAA made the right call by canceling the rest of the season. Cook also agrees with Davenport that the NCAA made the right decision by putting public health first.

“Selfishly, I want to say yes, they were being too cautious, but at the same time I understand why they canceled,” Cook said.

Davenport said he feels sad for his players. “The players were devastated. The culture of our program is led by seniors driven to never want to take their uniform off for the last time and underclassman who never want to play their last game with our seniors. It ended so abruptly there are no words to describe the emotion felt by the entire team,” he said.

Cook spent his past four years at Bellarmine playing and preparing for the tournament. “When I found out that my last season would be cut short and the NCAA tournament would not be played, it was heartbreaking,” he said.

Chris Palombizio, a senior forward, said he “never thought something like this would ever happen.”

“It was definitely heartbreaking,” he said. “However, you have to look at the big picture. You have to look out for your health and well-being. It also could be a lot worse. I am just fortunate to be in the situation I was to play a game I loved.”

Davenport said he believes that with or without fans at the tournament his team’s performance wouldn’t have been affected. “Emotion only carries a team so far then it comes down to execution, match ups and fundamentals. Basketball always has and will always be a team game,” he said.

College basketball is very important to many Bellarmine students and not having any basketball tournaments is disappointing to them.

Connor Chessock, a senior business administration major who is an avid college basketball fan, said he was disappointed he didn’t get to see his favorite team, Villanova, compete, in the NCAA D-I tournament.

“I was very hopeful that we could make another run at title,” Chessock said about Villanova. “When it got to the point where holding a tournament without fans looked like a legitimate option, I was very interested in what that could potentially look like.”

However, Chessock said he thinks the NCAA made the right call by canceling the tournament. “There would still be 68 teams with 15 or more people from all over the country coming to play in those games. If one person were to have the virus and not know it, it would have the potential to spread to so many more people throughout the tournament,” he said.

Many coaches from different basketball organizations want to allow seniors to be able to be eligible to compete one more year because many of their seasons were cut short. The NCAA has extended eligibility to spring sports for another year, but as far as winter sports like basketball, they haven’t made a decision yet.

Dugan doesn’t agree with the coaches and organizations that want to bring back seniors for another season, considering they finished their regular season.

“You’re talking about 68 teams playing one more game, then 32 playing two more games, 16 playing three more, eight playing four more, four playing five more and two playing six more,” said Dugan. “Just doesn’t seem right to give them a whole year back.”

Berry agrees with Dugan that allowing senior basketball players to come back would unfair, however, she said she thinks spring sport athletes should have the opportunity because they lost their entire seasons.

“I think it would be unfair for the NCAA to allow winter sport seniors an entire extra year because they missed out on a couple weeks of playing,” Berry said. “I also think that would be a disservice to the incoming freshmen class because that could hurt their opportunities by bringing back a senior class, especially in the case for our team that would return five seniors.”

Cook said he thinks all senior athletes who were affected by their season being cut short should have the opportunity to return and participate in another season. But he said he understands the complexity of making a decision this big.

Chessock, who is a former student athlete, said sympathizes with senior athletes and believes they should be allowed to come back and play their sports for an additional season but is not sure how the logistics will work.

“There are some people that won’t be able to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility because they are either going off to grad school somewhere or have already taken a job,” Chessock said .

Some of the concerns seniors have about coming back for another season are related to their future after they graduate.

“The issue is majority of seniors by this time have made plans to move on with life,” Downey said. “We are working on getting jobs, continuing education, traveling the world, starting a family.”

Downey said if presented with the opportunity she wouldn’t know whether to move on or try to play another year, but she said she believes each senior should have the chance to make that decision for himself or herself.

With Bellarmine moving to Division I next season, this was the men’s last year to go out with a bang in the NCAA D-II basketball tournament.

The Knights are not eligible to compete in the NCAA D-I basketball Tournament for four years, because of the rules associated with moving from D-II up to D-I.

The Knights will be eligible for the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, the National Invitation Tournament, the College Basketball Invitational, the Postseason Tournament and the Atlantic Sun regular season conference championship.

To keep up to date with Bellarmine Athletics follow @BUKnights on social media.

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