Without juggernaut conferences, NCAA was wise to cancel fall championships*

  • Nebraska's Nicklin Hames (1) has a hit blocked by Illinois players Ashlyn Fleming (12) and Beth Prince (8) in the fifth set of the semifinal match of the NCAA Division I volleyball championship Dec. 13, 2018, in Minneapolis. A Big Ten or PAC-12 team has won or been runner-up every year since 1995, and both leagues have shut down all fall sports.

    Nebraska's Nicklin Hames (1) has a hit blocked by Illinois players Ashlyn Fleming (12) and Beth Prince (8) in the fifth set of the semifinal match of the NCAA Division I volleyball championship Dec. 13, 2018, in Minneapolis. A Big Ten or PAC-12 team has won or been runner-up every year since 1995, and both leagues have shut down all fall sports. AP File Photo

 
 
Updated 8/14/2020 6:09 PM

The asterisk.

*

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It should be made the official sports symbol of the years 2020 and 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled, or in the very least, has severely compromised sports at pretty much all levels in 2020, and as it stands now, 2021 is looking the same way as well. So, these years will forever be explained in the future with a "Yes, there was a season that year, but due to COVID-19, * ..."

The NCAA made the right decision Thursday to cancel all fall sports championships even though some conferences, major ones such as the ACC and the SEC, have not yet pulled the plug on their fall sports seasons.

So, yes, there will be an asterisk next to 2020 for sports such as volleyball and women's soccer to indicate: *-- no national champion.

But could you imagine how many asterisks there would have been for those sports if the NCAA allowed for fall championships when a bunch of its schools weren't participating at all due to COVID-19 shutdowns?

Take volleyball for instance. The Big Ten and the Pac-12 have shut down all fall sports. Those are the two biggest powerhouse conferences in women's Division I volleyball.

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A team from either the Big Ten or the Pac-12 has won the last seven straight NCAA national titles and has finished as the NCAA national champion or as the national runner-up every year since 1995.

How could you have a national championship without both of those conferences represented in the postseason tournament?

I mean, ****!

"You can't. That's it," Illinois volleyball coach Chris Tamas told me on a Zoom call on Thursday, hours before the NCAA released its decision on fall championships. "I say that in jest obviously. But I think (about) what is meaningful (in terms of competition and championships)? What does that look like?

"It's a bit of a Wild West right now, but we know that if you get to a Sweet 16, 10 to 12 of those teams are (typically) from the Big Ten or the Pac-12. We pull a whole lot of weight, and hopefully that carries through the day in terms of the importance of a potential championship."

Apparently, it did. Missing juggernaut conferences probably factored a lot into the NCAA's decision, not to mention that the NCAA didn't want to stage championships without at least 50% of its membership holding seasons, and that number was in jeopardy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So, now, the thought is that perhaps all fall championships can be moved to the spring.

In the big scheme of things, we're probably at the point where most athletes at most levels feel lucky just to be playing at all, no matter where it is or what time of year.

But still, that doesn't diminish their need for competition, meaningful competition.

Moral victories still aren't all that satisfying, even during a pandemic.

On the Zoom call, Illinois women's soccer coach Janet Rayfield said that asterisk or not, her players will be happy to play their 2020 season in the spring of 2021. But they've been talking up the idea of making sure a spring season would be a meaningful season, and what that would look like.

"I think the most important thing is that the athletes have the opportunity to compete for a championship" Rayfield said. "We've talked about what would be meaningful for them. We want to look at the possibility of a spring season, but we will only do that if a spring season is meaningful. Being able to compete for a Big Ten championship and being able to compete nationally certainly fits under meaningful for them."

Fingers crossed, hopefully we will see all of you fall athletes in the spring for full seasons, and championships*!

Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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