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Giger: Sports world sets leadership example by shutting it all down

This photo shows the seating area at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Indianapolis, after the Big Ten Conference announced that remainder of the men's NCAA college basketball games tournament was canceled.

Let’s try to catch our breath here. I mean, the world as we know it — particularly in sports — has been thrown into upheaval over the past 48 hours, as we’ve been hit with one knockout punch after another with cancelations because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This thing has changed our lives in ways that we’ve never seen before in this country.

It’s all happened so fast, and each news story has been so big that, quite frankly, it hasn’t seemed real at times.

But this is all very real. And most troubling is that so many medical experts keep saying things are probably going to get worse before they get better.

I’ll get into some specific sports items in a bit, but first let me say this: I’m proud of the way our country has responded over the past two days by taking drastic measures to shut down all major sporting events in an effort to create social distancing and to help prevent spread of the virus as much as possible.

It had to be done.

No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

At a time in our society when you can’t get people to agree on just about anything, leaders across the board in the sports world have all agreed to make the difficult decisions to shut down their events and leagues.

Surely there are still some of you out there who believe this is all a big overreaction. You are entitled to that opinion.

But opinions don’t save lives in these kinds of situations. Real actions have real consequences. The only way to help ourselves is by keeping us apart right now. We must stay away from one another when it comes to large gatherings.

That’s not hysteria. It’s not the liberal media creating a frenzied panic. It’s not a partisan political strategy.

It’s the truth.

If you’ve followed the global coronavirus coverage in recent weeks, you already knew this country could be in for some serious issues. In a bizarre turn of events, it took an NBA player, Rudy Gobert, and one of the greatest actors of all time, Tom Hanks, to get infected for many people to stand up and take full notice of just how serious all of this really is.

Sports bring people together — literally and figuratively — unlike anything else in this country. They serve as our escape from the troubling and downright bad things going on in our world.

Now, that escape has been taken away from us for the foreseeable future.

Did you know there are only two days in the entire year when not a single one of the four major sports — NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL — is playing a game? Those two are the day before and the day after the MLB All-Star Game each July.

With this coronavirus situation, I’m guessing it will be at least a month before there are any major sporting events, which means 30 days or more of wondering:

What are we all going to do with ourselves?

If you’re a sports junkie — and many of you are — this next month is going to be boring as all get out, and one of the wildest, most memorable things you’ll experience in your lifetime.

My favorite sports event, by far, is the NCAA Tournament. I love college basketball as much as anyone, and March Madness is the greatest time of the year.

It’s crushing that we won’t get to see it at all this year.

But canceling the tournament was absolutely the right decision.

Still, doing away with the tournament brings about a lot of sad story lines.

Penn State was going to go dancing for the first time since 2011 and just the sixth time since 1965. Yes, the Nittany Lions struggled down the stretch and may have been one and done in the dance, but there also was the possibility that the team would figure things out just in time to make a nice run.

Now, we’ll never know.

You can’t help but feel bad for Penn State star senior Lamar Stevens. Not only is one of the greatest players in program history getting his NCAA Tournament opportunity taken away, Stevens (2,207 points) also needed just seven more points to break Talor Battle’s PSU career scoring record of 2,213.

Stevens would have broken the record in Thursday night’s Big Ten Tournament game against Indiana, but the entire event was canceled.

Going forward, there should forever be an asterisk by Stevens’ name in the PSU record book, and he should be considered the de facto career scoring leader with a disclaimer explaining why.

Locally, we can only hope that the PIAA basketball tournament does continue in a few weeks. My guess is that it will not, and I truly do hope I’m wrong about that.

Bellwood-Antis deserves a chance to compete for its third straight state championship. Alli Campbell, the greatest female high school basketball player in this area’s history, deserves her shot at what would be an amazing three-peat.

The Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic boys deserve to see if they can win a state title. The Marauders, who lost in the state championship game last year, have an excellent team, are very fun to watch and potentially could pull off the great feat if given the opportunity.

The BG girls also have a chance to win a state title. Kristi Kaack has done a magnificent job with that team since coming back from having a baby, and it would be a shame if the Lady Marauders are denied a chance to see how far they can go.

It’s disappointing, no doubt, to cancel college sports or to postpone professional sports. Those athletes have worked extremely hard for every opportunity they get.

But canceling high school sports is sad and frustrating on a whole other level. For most athletes, their playing careers will end at the high school level, and to have any opportunity taken away when they have so little time to make their mark is incredibly disappointing.

That’s especially true for high school seniors playing spring sports, because they face the very real possibility of having their final year taken away from them altogether. That would be heartbreaking.

We look to sports to give us feel-good stories. And there are others in our area, as well, such as the Penn State hockey program being a top 10 team, and the powerhouse PSU wrestling program vying for national titles. Sadly, both of those teams are being denied an opportunity to compete for a championship because the NCAA canceled the tournaments.

Across the country, colleges and leagues have canceled entire spring sports seasons. Again, it had to happen, but that’s just so sad for all of those competitors.

There already has been, and I’m sure will continue to be, a growing push to get a year of eligibility back for all college athletes affected by these cancelations. The NCAA rarely seems to do the right thing when it comes to student-athletes, but it absolutely should grant a waiver so that basketball players and participants in all spring sports should be able to regain their year of eligibility if they so choose.

Wow! What a time. What a crazy couple of days.

Did you ever think you’d see something like this in your lifetime?

It’s all just so stunning, but you know what, this is just the way it has to be for now in the sports world.

We have real-world problems to address that are far more important.

Hopefully our leaders in the real world can be as decisive and bold in their decision making going forward as the sports leaders have been the past couple of days by taking their ball and going home.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.

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