Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa basketball heads to Big Ten tournament focused on victory, not coronavirus

Unlike the Ivy League's, the Big Ten tournament is happening

Iowa's bench reacts to a 3-point basket by Hawkeyes forward Nicholas Baer during the second half of the Hawkeyes' second
Iowa's bench reacts to a 3-point basket by Hawkeyes forward Nicholas Baer during the second half of the Hawkeyes' second-round Big Ten tournament win over Illinois last March 14 at the United Center in Chicago. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — You want to know what real March Madness would be?

Consider the rage and horror of teams and fans from Vegas to Vermont had all of college basketball’s conference tournaments been called off because of coronavirus, let alone the NCAA tournament that starts next week.

The Ivy League announced Tuesday that it has canceled its men’s and women’s league tourneys. The Princeton women’s team and Yale men’s team will proceed directly to the NCAA tournaments as regular-season champions.

“Regrettably, the information and recommendations presented to us from public health authorities and medical professionals have convinced us that this is the most prudent decision,” said Ivy League executive director Robin Harris.

Things can change between now and when the Big Ten men’s tourney starts at 5 p.m. (CT) Wednesday in Indianapolis, but that and all other Division I conferences with tourneys this week seemingly aren’t likely to pull any plugs. The Mid-American and Big West conferences did announce their tournament games will be closed to the general public.

Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion was the site for both Ivy League tourneys. It seats 1,636 fans. Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse can seat about 18,000 for basketball.

Some leagues are limiting locker room access to media at their tourneys. Those rooms can get extremely crowded after games.

But refund television and box office money, and deprive member schools of the chances to earn spots in the NCAAs or enhance their season’s resumes? That would probably take a full-blown pandemic.

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The Ivy League, which seldom lacks for funding of much, made its statement. Its teams then made their own, quickly assembling a petition Tuesday to resume the tournament.

“The hypocrisy of our Ivy League presidents is baffling and alarming,” the statement reads. “We are disappointed and disheartened that they would discriminate against one sport and allow the others to continue to compete. Other conferences, such as the SEC and Pac-12, are still scheduled to host their men’s basketball championship tournaments. These tournaments are scheduled to start March 11 or later.”

“To pull this from our kids, it’s the most horrific thing I’ve dealt with as a coach,” said Pennsylvania’s Steve Donahue.

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery is a Penn graduate. He played three seasons for the Quakers. It’s lucky for the Ivy League that he isn’t Penn’s coach today.

“I’m quite certain that I would be outspoken about it if I was coaching in that league right now,” McCaffery said Tuesday.

If any new guidelines or protocol related to coronavirus had been discussed or mandated by the Big Ten as of mid-Tuesday afternoon, McCaffery was unaware of it.

“I’m sure there is communication going on,” he said, “but I haven’t had any. It’s business as usual as far as I’m concerned.”

The same isn’t true for Big Ten Network. While BTN will telecast all 10 of the men’s tourney games from Wednesday through Friday including Iowa’s 1:30 p.m. Thursday second-round game against Minnesota or Northwestern, the network’s studio show won’t originate from Bankers Life. Instead, they’ll air from BTN’s Chicago studio.

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The main show will go on, however. Iowa and 13 other teams will pursue the pleasure of cutting down nets on Sunday afternoon.

“I think this team is ready to start playing for championships,” said Iowa senior Ryan Kriener.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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