ACC to vote on expansion Sunday as total apocalypse looms


At this time yesterday, there was, with the exception of Texas, little chatter regarding the ACC and expansion.  24 hours and multiple reports later, all hell is breaking loose on the Right Coast of college football.

Friday night, it was reported that the ACC was engaged in conversations with Big East members Pittsburgh and Syracuse about a possible move.  Those talks escalated quickly, apparently, as it was reported Saturday morning that both of the schools had sent a letter to the ACC formally applying for membership to that conference.

Now, multiple media outlets have been reporting, and CFT can confirm, that a vote by ACC presidents and chancellors could take place as early as Sunday.  It’s believed that neither institution would have formally applied for membership without some type of backchannel guarantee as to a positive outcome, so a unanimous vote is expected regardless of when it takes place.  There’s the possibility that the vote could be delayed until earlier in the week, although such a delay would merely be a matter of scheduling as opposed to any indecision or uncertainty on the part of the ACC.

I’m not at liberty to get into all of that right now,” said Big East commissioner John Marinatto, who reportedly learned of the developments involving two of his schools while sitting in the press box of the West Virginia-Maryland game. “Just trying to get more information as we go along.  It’s been this way all morning.”

Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver, who would neither confirm nor deny the reports regarding his school’s conference, intimated that something on the expansion front could be going down in short order, telling reporters today that “I think some things will take shape in the not-so-distant future.”

Should the ACC vote to accept Pittsburgh and Syracuse, Big East bylaws call for a $5 million exit fee — a veritable pittance in today’s climate of billion-dollar television deals — as well as an advanced notice of 27 months.  Such a timeline would technically mean neither school would be contractually permitted to leave until the 2014-2015 academic year; technically, that would also mean next to nothing in this day and age as both sides could make concessions — i.e. “enhanced” financial considerations in exchange for an accelerated time frame for an exit — that would expedite the process.

When this domino falls — and, yes, we’re saying when and not if — it will trigger what will likely become the most seismic shift to the conference landscape in the game’s history.

So, what would it all mean for the future of the various conference entities if this particular domino falls?  Let’s take a look at the myriad possibilities, remembering that the belief of a great many officials at various institutions and conferences is that this latest round of expansion will result in a handful of 16-team superconferences.

For the ACC…

Currently at 12 members, the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse would bump that number to… doing the math… 14 institutions and headed straight for the first BcS 16-team superconference.  Where would the conference turn for Nos. 15 and 16 if that is indeed their intention?  Based on the speculation that’s previously connected them to the conference, Texas would be the first — and most attractive — place to look.

Geographical issues aside, UT and the ACC would appear to be a match made in league heaven, if for nothing more than the school’s beloved Longhorn Network — you know, the entity that helped play a major role in ripping apart one conference — would be the subject of nary a tweak.  The thing with UT, however, is they would appear to have at least a couple of options at their disposal; as we detailed this past week, they could stay to help rebuild the Big 12; following the Oklahoma schools to the Pac-12; take the independent football route; or, of course, move on to the ACC.

If you’re going to be at 15 members — and that would be the number with the additions of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Texas — football scheduling would force you to go out and get a 16th.  Based on politics in the state of Texas alone, Texas Tech would appear to be a viable candidate to tag along with big brother UT.  Another intriguing possibility would be Kansas; the Kansas City Star is reporting that, if the ACC expands to 16 members, the Jayhawks would be a consideration.  As the ACC is a basketball conference first and foremost, the addition of the storied KU hoops program would make an abundance of sense.  As the Star notes, the additions of UT and KU would be the best of the revenue sports worlds to the conference.

Of course, the fact that the ACC is suddenly a very proactive conference could also serve as protection against potential poaching from another league.  Well, that and the news the conference recently and unanimously approved a bump in exit fees — from roughly $12 million to the current figure of $20 million — means that the league is interested in keeping their current membership intact as well as adding to their current roll.

For the SEC…

As the preeminent football conference in the country, the SEC has already cleared a spot at the table for Texas A&M to come in as its 13th member — as soon as Baylor, which has reportedly made overtures to the Big East, gets off its moral high horse.  The SEC has publicly stated that they would be perfectly fine going with 13 schools in 2012; that was publicly stated before the ACC started its mad dash to 16.  For those who are unaware, Mike Slive is a commissioner who will not sit on his hands and will respond in kind whether it’s the ACC or the Pac-12 firing off the first superconference shot.

The direction the conference would go, however, appears to be somewhat muddled.  The schools that would make the most sense geographically — Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson — also happen to be located in states already represented in the SEC; reportedly, there’s a “gentleman’s agreement” among the current members that they would not add additional members from someone’s own backyard.  Virginia Tech, on many levels, would be the optimum candidate but for one glaring exception — the Hokies fought tooth and nail to become a member of the ACC, and have been very vehement in their desire to remain in that conference.  There’s also the little matter of the University of Virginia, and the desire of the state to keep the two schools connected at the conference hip.

Additionally, all of those schools mentioned currently call the ACC their home.  As previously noted, exit fees that were increased by somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 percent could cause some members to think twice about a move.  Then again, if that move is to a financial environment like the SEC would offer, such a number would mean next to nothing.

So, if the ACC schools are out — we do not believe that to be the case, but play along — where would the SEC turn?  West Virginia has been long rumored to be a potential target for a 14th-16th slot.  Missouri has also been the subject of speculation, although we’ve long been led to believe that, if massive conference expansion were to go down, they would be a better fit in another conference, which we will get to later.  How the SEC would get to 16 teams without the benefit of adding schools from the ACC remains to be seen, and could become problematic for the conference.

For the Pac-12…

Commissioner Larry Scott was quoted as saying Saturday evening that “[i]f and when [expansion] happens … we are going to be at forefront of changes.”  That process has already begun for a suddenly-rejuvenated conference under Scott, with the Pac-12 already holding talks with, among others, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas.  The two Oklahoma schools appear ticketed for a move of conference affiliation out west, with an OU Board of Regents meeting taking place Monday that will likely end with the school’s president being empowered to explore future league options.  As OU and OSU are bound at the hip, the Stillwater school will follow the Norman school wherever it goes, which will in all likelihood be the Pac-12 before the end of the month.

While Scott will not say it publicly, he would love nothing more than to add both Oklahoma and Texas, with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech serving as necessary add-ons in order to land the two primary targets.  UT has publicly stated their preference is to stay as a part of the Big 12, but that conference’s future is dicey at best.  Like their Red River rivals, the UT Board of Regents will hold a meeting Monday that could end with its president receiving permission to explore any and all conference options in an official capacity.

If UT was to decide the Pac-12 is not in their best interests — and being forced to fold the LHN into a regional Pac-12 network as a condition of membership could be just that — the conference’s options would be cut significantly if OU/OSU are added and if they maintain a desire to get to 16 sans the Texas schools.  One option we’ve been told the Pac-12 would consider in such a scenario is the addition of TCU and Boise State.  TCU is already slated to move from the Mountain West to the Big East in 2012; the uncertainty in their soon-to-be new league could prompt the school to seek more stability elsewhere.  Boise State, on the other hand, is not a good fit academically, although the obvious benefit would be a top-ten football program.

BYU, the first-year football independent that has been the subject of rumors tying them to the Big 12, could be another potential option.  Their willingness, or lack thereof, to move their other sports from the West Coast Conference could be a hindrance, as would the no-games-on-Sunday edict the Mormon school plays under.  Like with Texas, the school’s television network could be a non-starter for this option.  One other option?  Houston, if for nothing more than the huge television market the Cougars would bring to the table.

For the Big East…

On a scale of 1-10, with one being puppies and 10 being Craig James, how much does the Big East despise John Swofford and the ACC?  The Big East has already watched three teams poached by the conference a decade ago, and now are on the verge of seeing two more schools swallowed up by Swofford’s league.

With Pittsburgh and Syracuse all but gone to the ACC, the Big East would suddenly find themselves with just seven schools — provided TCU follows through with their move next year.  That’s also provided they’re not raided by a conference other than the ACC (see both above and below).  Unbelievably, massive conference upheaval, provided it involves the Big 12, may actually be the best development for the Big East.

Should the Big 12 get whittled down to four members, which is certainly a very real possibility depending on how many dominoes fall, the Big East would be in prime position to pluck that conference’s carcass by adding some combination of Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor.  In fact, the latter two schools have already reportedly made overtures to that conference in case the Big 12’s demise is not exaggerated this time around.

There’s also Conference USA; both UCF and East Carolina have long been rumored to be potential targets for expansion.  As odd as it may sound, and while becoming a superconference is almost out of the realm of possibility, there appears to be a way, or even several ways, for the Big East to survive, perhaps even as a BcS conference.  Add it all up, it’s realistic to state that the Big East could come out of this as at least a 10-team football conference when all of the expansion dust clears.

For the Big 12…

Here’s what we know: Texas A&M will be a member of the SEC, either in 2012 or, at the latest, 2013.  Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have their bags packed and the car warmed up for a trip out west.  Texas’ best conference options do not include the words “Big 12”, their public comments to the contrary notwithstanding.  Not only are those five schools half of the conference’s current membership, they also double as the most valuable properties in the league.  Without them, there is no Big 12.

How exactly does the Big 12 survive this time around?  Their one and only hope is that Oklahoma, for whatever reason, comes down with a case of amnesia regarding its concerns over the instability of the conference and stays, with Texas following suit.  Short of that, the Big 12 is dead, with the funeral procession possibly beginning as early as Monday in the board rooms of its two most powerful members.

For the Big Ten…

Commissioner Jim Delany reportedly spent Saturday on the golf course, saying that he’s perfectly content where his conference stands amid all of the tumult going down across the country.  And why shouldn’t he be?  Along with the SEC, the Big Ten is on the most solid footing of any conference in college sports, thanks in large part to the ATM that is the Big Ten Network.

The Big Ten doesn’t have to do anything; that doesn’t mean they won’t.  If Delany sees other conferences around the country making the move toward superconferences, that’s not a man who will be caught flatfooted.  In fact, even as it’s been all quiet on the expansion front as it pertains to the Big Ten, you can rest assured that Delany and his bosses, the conference presidents and chancellors, have a plan of attack that they could launch at a moment’s notice if necessary.

What could that plan entail?  First and foremost, making another run at Notre Dame — and this time, the Irish may have no choice but to listen. “We’ll see whether we can manage our circumstances to meet that goal,” Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Saturday night.  It’s long been thought that the only circumstance that would possibly move Notre Dame away from football independence would be a major shift in the collegiate landscape.  With conferences apparently headed in the direction of 16-team leagues, that would certainly represent a significant shift.  And the biggest challenge to ND’s football independence in its storied history.

Another no-brainer for the Big Ten would be Missouri, a school that openly flirted with the Big Ten last year before being denied as the conference decided to add just Nebraska to get to an even 12.  However, Mizzou has everything the Big Ten would look for in a new member: membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU); quality athletics across the board; and a television market that would include St. Louis and Kansas City, sizable markets that would be a boon for BTN.  And, while there has been speculation that the SEC would target Mizzou, we’ve been told that the Big Ten is far and away the school’s preference.  Rutgers would be another possibility if the Big Ten decided to join the superconference pursuit, with the Scarlet Knights offering AAU membership and the New York/New Jersey market as significant pluses for inclusion.  Plus, it would keep JoePa happy by bringing in an Eastern team, so there’s that.

Two other names to keep in mind if/when the conference apocalypse goes down: Kansas and Maryland.  And, yes, both of those institutions are AAU members.

In summation…

After well over 2,500 words have been typed in this opus, we’re left with just as many questions, if not more, than when we started.

That’s what happens, though, when you have a situation as fluid and as volatile as this latest round of expansion.  Where this will all lead, absolutely nobody knows with any degree of certainty.  Come Sunday with the expected vote by the ACC on Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and the regents meetings at Oklahoma and Texas the following day, the picture should be a bit clearer within the next 48 hours or so.

Perhaps the only thing that has become clearer is the face of college football is likely to look a helluva different a year from now.  Is that a good or a bad thing?  Absolutely nobody knows.  And that’s scary as hell.

Big Ten pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

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The Big Ten won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports’ power conferences to yield to the pandemic.

The move announced Tuesday comes six day after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions.

But it was not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge


President Donald Trump joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches Monday in the push to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

There was speculation that two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports and became the first school in the Bowl Subdivison to break from its league in doing so; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes had been taken by its presidents and chancellors on fall sports as of Monday afternoon and the powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among the group posting their thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPla. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

Old Dominion has stopped trying. The Virginia school canceled football and other fall sports less than a week after Conference USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown players can be safe after they return to school.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” he wrote. “I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football, but you also know that you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” added Sasse, a former college president. “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football.”

Players unite in push to save college season, create union


Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players pushing for the opportunity to play this season despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

MAC football
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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”