Dave Revsine had just finished a routine workout when he was called into the office for a meeting. The Big Ten Network’s lead studio host spot-checked the coronavirus map on the nearest television on the way out of the gym.
A few minutes later, Revsine was told the studio team would not travel from Chicago to Indianapolis for the 2020 Big Ten tournament, which started March 11, because of concerns about the virus.
In that moment, Revsine’s thoughts drifted back to the state-by-state map he just saw. Indiana had one confirmed case on March 6, 2020.
“I remember thinking myself, ‘OK, this seems like an over-reaction, but I respect what they are trying to do,'” Revsine told Sporting News. “I understand that I’m in a leadership position. It’s my job to support it. They didn’t make this decision out of thin air.”
The United States sports landscape met that thin air the following week. The NBA, NHL and college basketball vanished in a three-day whirlwind last March in which the country’s outlook about COVID-19 changed in real time – even if it didn’t seem real at that time.
Quarantines, lockdowns and social distancing weren’t part of the national vocabulary yet. Revsine walked out of the gym to a meeting at an office, two everyday places that still don’t feel the same in 2021. There were 1,197 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 38 deaths in the United States on March 11, 2020. A year later, there are more than 28.8 million confirmed cases and more than 523,000 deaths.
“When you put it into context of what has happened in our country since — a half-million deaths and people losing jobs and losing loved ones and all of that — it’s small potatoes,” Revsine said. “I think I understood that at the time, and we spent a lot of time talking about it on the air that day.
“But sports are a reflection of our society, and they are important to us,” he said. “For whatever reason, they resonate with us. We measure time by them. They bring people hope and joy and frustration and anger — every emotion there is — and that’s part of their place with us.”
A different emotion — uncertainty — took hold over those three days. A universal question — “What is going on?” — was asked across the country, from the Ivy League to the NBA.
Sporting News recounts the events — both remembered and forgotten — that shaped those three days in March.
Tuesday, March 10: A ‘tough decision’ for Ivy League
(11:30 a.m.): Ivy League executive director Robin Harris remembers when conference calls — not Zoom calls — were the norm.
She had conference calls the previous two days with her men’s and women’s basketball teams, and those centered on how to conduct the conference tournament with limited spectators. Tuesday was different.
“It was an incredible week, and one that I think a lot of us remember with very good clarity,” Harris told SN. “The situation was evolving so rapidly, and it went from changing daily to changing multiple times in a day. By the time the (Ivy League) presidents realized they had to cancel the basketball tournament, which was a really tough decision to make, we also knew it was the right decision for the Ivy League at that time.”
Harris said Ivy League school presidents were in constant contact with public health experts, epidemiologists and infectious-disease specialists from around the United States. On March 10, the Ivy League made the decision to cancel its tournaments, one that was made in that unstable environment with the increasing number of positive tests.
“We had to really adjust and adapt based on the information and science that I was learning about from the presidents and some other experts that we had involved,” Harris said. “Looking back now, you think of how low the incidents of the virus were. The numbers that week were so much lower than anything we have had since.”
The Ivy League standards would not change. Students were being sent home from Ivy League schools because of limitations on group size. The logical conclusion was that the four-team men’s and women’s tournaments could not be conducted on Ivy League campuses based on the information given. The Ivy League tournament was canceled, but Yale would represent the men and Princeton the women in their respective NCAA Tournaments.
That was the first polarizing decision, one that would become a template for all conferences that would cancel within the next two days.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker — whose team was a co-favorite with Yale to win that tournament — supported that decision.
“This is an unprecedented situation and I fully support the University and College’s actions to protect the health and well-being of our students – including all of our student-athletes,” Amaker said at the time, via RoundBallDaily.com.
Penn coach Steve Donahue took the opposite stance.
“Simply put, the Ivy League administration has failed its players, coaches, and fans,” Donahue said.
Both coaches had a point at the time. Harris said that painful decision, however, turned out to be the right one.
“The experts were guiding our presidents on the steps that were necessary,” she said. “The more the experts were right, the clearer it became we needed to listen to their advice on things we understand more now than we did that week.”
Wednesday, March 11: The unraveling begins
(4:40 p.m.): On a day when 34 Division I men’s basketball conference tournament games were played, NCAA president Mark Emmert made the announcement that only essential staff and limited family would be allowed to attend the NCAA Tournament. At the time, 12 teams had clinched a berth in the NCAA tournament.
The Big Ten also made the decision to continue its conference tournament without fans. The Ivy League, meanwhile, took the next step and canceled spring sports for the rest of the 2020 school year.
“It was a tough week,” Harris said. “Our student-athletes and coaches had the rug pulled out from them — in basketball when that decision was made and also for the spring sports when the decision was made a day later to cancel them. That was really hard. I don’t think people saw that coming.”
Nobody could have foreseen what happened next.
(7 p.m.): Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was listed as questionable with an illness for a regular-season game with the Oklahoma City Thunder. On March 9, Gobert touched several reporters’ microphones on the table at a press conference while making a point about the fear of the spread of COVID-19.
Media members were barred from the locker room and expected to stay at a safe distance at press conferences, but there were still fans in attendance for the Thunder-Jazz game at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. ESPN’s Royce Young recounted that setting in an interview with Awful Announcing a week later.
“One image that sticks out to me, is that the pregame hype-up crew has this extendable basketball goal that somebody was wearing on their back and they would throw that soft ball to fans,” Young said, via Awful Announcing. “Each fan was touching the ball and shooting it. Now you’re hyper-conscious of all these things.”
The starting lineups were announced, and the teams were preparing to take the floor before an official intervened.
A shocking announcement came 35 minutes later: The game was postponed because of “unforeseen circumstances.”
“At that time, the context was the media and the fans were kind of the infected ones,” Young said. “We were the ones that might be carrying it and we had to protect the players. Obviously, it kind of turned out to be the inverse.”
(9:27 p.m.): The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.
Sources say Gobert is feeling good, strong and stable — and was feeling strong enough to play tonight.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 12, 2020
This became the shock moment across the sports world. Revsine remembers sitting in the studio green room with Big Ten Network analysts John Beilein, Tim Miles and Jess Settles.
“We all got this alert that the NBA was postponing its season due to Rudy Gobert,” Revsine said. “We all were just like, ‘Wow! What is going on here?'”
At 9:46 p.m., the NBA announced on Twitter that its season was suspended until further notice.
Harris had just sat down on the couch with her husband Max, who was watching ESPN. Max reacted as most Americans did when the Gobert news flashed across the ticker. He looked at Robin and said, “Well, that’s going to change things now.”
Robin Harris had a measured reaction.
“Even then, sitting there and knowing that fundamentally something was changing that this became more real for more people across the country, I did not expect what happened in the next 24 hours,” she said.
(9:28 p.m.): Boston guard Walter Whyte took a moment for himself.
The Terriers upset Colgate 61-58 in the Patriot League championship game with 1,724 fans in attendance at Cotterell Court in Hamilton, N.Y. Boston clinched a berth in the Big Dance for the first time since 2011. Four Terriers scored double figures, and Whyte contributed 12 points.
“They missed the last shot, and the buzzer went off,” Whyte told Sporting News. “I just laid on the ground. I laid on the court. ‘Wow, we won the championship. We really did it!’ I just stayed there for there at least five seconds to take everything in then started celebrating with team. That moment, right there on the hardwood, was just knowing we made history.”
The Boston Terriers celebrate winning the Patriot League championship on March 11, 2020. (Matt Woolverton/BU Athletics)
Boston became the 13th team to clinch a berth in the 2020 NCAA Tournament. For ninth-year coach Joe Jones, a former assistant at Villanova under Jay Wright, it was the first NCAA Tournament berth as a head coach.
Whyte recalled Jones’ smile in the locker room and the team dousing the coach with water bottles — one of those celebrations that have become a March Madness staple. This was the Cinderella story that would never be finished.
“We had the shot,” Whyte said. “We did everything we wanted to have our seniors go out on top. We were grateful that we got to play the last game. We got to get the banner. We got the trophy. Our names go down in history. You can’t take that away.”
It was not until Whyte got home from the bus ride back to campus that he saw the Gobert news while scrolling through Twitter.
He also had no idea what had transpired in Indianapolis.
(9:30 p.m.): Nebraska and Indiana tipped off in their first-round Big Ten tournament game. Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg still felt a little off after the morning shoot-around and a quick afternoon nap.
“I wasn’t feeling great, but I wasn’t feeling awful,” Hoiberg said in a news conference last week. “It was just kind of that time of year. That’s what I thought was going on. You get run down after the long season with the grind, and you do everything you can to finish on a high note with your team.”
He consulted with team trainer R.J. Pietig. Hoiberg then met with the Big Ten’s on-site doctor. Hoiberg’s temperature and oxygen were normal. An X-ray of Hoiberg’s lungs checked out, and he was cleared to coach against the Hoosiers. Hoiberg’s physical condition deteriorated rapidly during an 89-64 loss to Indiana, however, and the social media reaction that followed on the heels of the Gobert spread more uncertainty.
“The image that forever will be seared in my head on that one was there was a moment where Fred is just looking awful,” Revsine said. “It’s when Armon Gates — who is a friend of mine and one of his assistants — looks over at Fred and there’s a container of hand sanitizer on the ground. He starts furiously sanitizing his hands.
“It was a huge deal for us because we had people in contact with him — Andy Katz and Mike Hall — had been in close contact with him and camera people,” he said.
Nebraska senior communicators director Shamus McKnight approached Hoiberg during the second half. Hoiberg recounted the short conversation:
McKnight: “You need to leave the floor.”
Hoiberg: “What did I do?”
McKnight: “This isn’t a debate. An official came down and said you need to leave now.”
Hoiberg had a N95 mask and wheelchair waiting near the tunnel, and he was taken to a nearby hospital. On the way, that question popped up again.
“I’m thinking, ‘What is going on here?'” Hoiberg said. “They took me, kind of explained the situation and took me in and did the COVID test at the hospital. They didn’t think I had it because of the symptoms, and they released me because they were that confident. I didn’t have it. I actually beat the team to the hotel, and my concern at the point was for the players. Did I do something here to harm the players or anyone else?”
Hoiberg received the test results a few hours later while Revsine and other Big Ten Network employees were still at work.
“I had never been so relieved to hear that I had the flu,” Hoiberg said before transitioning. “That was kind of the beginning of all the shut-downs.”
(10:30 p.m.): The Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators played the last game on the NHL schedule that night. Edmonton and Winnipeg had started an hour earlier, and the Gobert and Hoiberg incidents leaked into those locker rooms in neighboring Canada.
“We were coming in on the intermissions and seeing the NBA shut down,” Edmonton center Connor McDavid told Sporting News. “I remember just a weird night and a weird game. Everyone was kind of just, ‘What’s going to happen here?”
McDavid scored a goal in a 4-2 loss, but that was not what he and his teammates were talking about.
“I think we all kind of knew after the second period that we’re in the second intermission that we were going to get shut down,” Edmonton forward Leon Draisaitl told SN.
Draisaitl was right. More uncertainty followed.
Thursday, March 12: Game over
(11 a.m.): A total of 58 conference tournament games were scheduled for March 12. Revsine, who broke from his routine and did not update his stats the night before, went on the air with Beilein to preview the upcoming Big Ten tournament matchup between Rutgers and Michigan.
“I think it was 12 minutes into the show, the producer got into my ear and said, ‘Hey we’re hearing the tournament may be canceled,” Revsine said. “There are reports the tournament is canceled. I’ll let you know as soon as I know anything.’
“We were just kind of doing the pregame show. About 30 seconds later he says, ‘The league has confirmed to us that the tournament is canceled.’ I had just asked Coach Beilein a question. My producer says, ‘Let him finish. Turn to Camera 4. Say the tournament is canceled. We’ll go from there.'”
The Big Ten Conference announced today that it will be canceling the remainder of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament, effective immediately.https://t.co/MeQMNScXKQ
— Big Ten Conference (@bigten) March 12, 2020
They would be on the air for the next hour without a break.
Revsine re-watched that moment last week, and it unfolded exactly how he remembered it. Like the Big Ten, the rest of Division I began canceling tournaments in rapid succession.
“When you do television enough, you’ve seen just about everything,” Revsine said. “When you are on the air, there are certainly times when the story changes — where it’s not what you expect it to be. Something happens. This was one of the moments. To me, it was the most memorable moment where the story changed dramatically that I’ve ever been on the air for.”
(11:08 a.m.): The fallout from the NBA decision continued. The Utah Jazz announced that an additional player tested positive for COVID-19. Donovan Mitchell would confirm that news on Instagram shortly afterward.
(11:42 a.m.): The MLS announced it was suspending its season for 30 days. The season would remain paused until Aug. 12.
(12 p.m.): Whyte, still feeling the joy of the victory of the previous night, turned on the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. St. John’s led Creighton 38-35 at halftime, but the teams did not return to the floor.
“Once I saw that,” Whyte said, “I knew it was over with. It was definitely terrible that we couldn’t play in the tournament. That’s everybody’s dream since you were a child watching those March Madness runs.”
Boston produced a personalized “One Shining Moment” video, a small consolation prize for what could have been. Yet Whyte stayed positive. He remembers his mother and younger brother, who made the six-hour drive from New Haven, Conn., hugging him after the victory against Colgate.
“Emotions went to the mountain top — then it’s over,” he said. “I was just so grateful that we got to play in that game, just to finish it.”
Revsine, meanwhile, was still on the air. He has a lasting memory of what was taken away from the teams that were supposed to play — a scene that no doubt happened on other courts across the country.
“We showed the video of them taking the Rutgers and Michigan players off the court, and they are leaving the court and Zavier Simpson stayed on the court to get a few more shots up, and in hindsight thinking, ‘That’s it for him,'” Revsine said. “What a great career for him, and he didn’t know. He didn’t know that he would never take another shot in a Michigan uniform. He’s just getting a few more shots up to be ready. That was it. He was never having that next moment.”
(1:35 p.m.): Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe saw the events with the NBA the night before, but it was still a scheduled game day against Nashville.
“It was the first time it really kind of felt real in terms of its ability to affect our schedule,” Keefe told SN. “It was a strange night and a very strange morning, but we didn’t know we were going to play the game.”
Auston Matthews was already at the rink. The Maple Leafs center had a goal in a 2-1 victory against Tampa Bay on March 10.
“We went to the rink and everything was just kind of a bit eerie, I guess, because we didn’t really know what was going on,” Matthews told SN.
Meanwhile, McDavid received texts later in the day telling him not to come to the rink. Soon enough, the NHL made its decision.
The season was paused, and teams would not play again until July 30.
(3:10 p.m.): Major League Baseball announced it was pausing all activities. The season would not start until July 24.
(4:16 p.m.): The NCAA announced that the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled.
Other cancellations followed. The next day, events ranging from The Masters to the Indianapolis 500 would be postponed.
Those professional leagues and events, however, resumed in 2020.
The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup on Sept. 28. The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals on Oct. 11. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series on Oct. 27. The Columbus Crew won the MLS Cup on Dec. 12.
“It was just a great deal of uncertainty for everybody, but obviously that was through all of this,” Keefe said. “We’ve had to remain patient as everybody in the world has, and we’re grateful that we’ve found a way to get back to play here and do what we do.”
College basketball, however, was the one that didn’t experience that kind of closure during the 2019-20 season.
One year later
Selection Sunday for the 2021 men’s basketball tournament is four days away, but March Madness still is not quite the same. The entire tournament will be conducted in Indianapolis with limited attendance.
The lessons from last year still resonate, and COVID-19 remains a part of the day-to-day life in the United States.
The Ivy League did not have a basketball season in 2020-21. The campuses have maintained consistent standards for students and student-athletes. Harris looks back at last year and still hurts for those who did not get to continue their careers.
“For us, we were prepared to send the Yale men and Princeton women to the NCAA Tournament, and they were such amazing teams last year and I think they would have done incredibly well,” Harris said. “Since the tournament didn’t occur, I can say that. They each would have won at least a game — and maybe more than one game.”
Whyte did get another season with Boston, but it was anything but normal. The schedule was interrupted with COVID-19 pauses. The Terriers played a series of two-day doubleheaders with opponents to limit travel. Colgate beat Boston five times this season, including a 77-69 victory in the Patriot League semifinals. Whyte said the experience — while with a different outcome — still produced positive results.
“It has definitely loaded us with a character,” Whyte said. “We had to fight through a lot with the starts and stops and the pauses. We wear masks when we play. We’re the only team that has to do that. There are so many things going on. At the end of the day, it’s a basketball game.”
The Huskers opened Big Ten tournament play against Penn State on Wednesday, and Hoiberg was back on the sideline with the lessons learned from March 11, 2020.
“If I think all of us knew now what we knew then, then I probably would not have been allowed to coach because of what people know about this virus and how serious it is at this time,” Hoiberg said. “When I look back at the situation, it was a surreal day.
“I do want to express we did everything right as far as seeing the doctor. I was glued to CNN in the week when they shut everything down. You knew a lot more about it.”
Uncertainty remains, and the decision to play or not to play — and who to let in — continues across all the major sports. For Revsine, however, March 11 still produced those emotions that sports can evoke. He thought about Rutgers, which was poised to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. He thought about Penn State and coach Pat Chambers, another team that would have played in the Big Dance.
Those emotions remain very real even now, especially for the players who missed out.
“(Former Penn State forward) Lamar Stevens didn’t get to play in the tournament, and he finished nine points away from being their leading scorer,” he said. “That’s just crushing. In thinking back on it and watching it and talking about it, it’s the personal stories that resonate with me. It’s those moments that they will never get back.”
SN’s Jackie Spiegel contributed.