Earlier this week, as concerns over the spread of coronavirus started to mushroom, USC coach Andy Enfield acknowledged the helplessness of the situation.
“We’ll let the experts try to figure this out,” Enfield said. “We’re just going to go play until they tell us not to.”
Three days later, that time came.
The seasons of USC and UCLA ended Thursday after the Pac-12 Conference canceled its men’s basketball tournament and announced that all sports competitions involving member teams would be halted indefinitely because of coronavirus concerns, part of a larger shutdown involving a wide swath of college and professional sports.
A few hours later, the NCAA announced the cancellation of all the winter and spring championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
“We were all really looking forward to playing in the Pac-12 tournament,” USC senior guard Jonah Mathews said in a statement posted to the team’s Twitter account before the NCAA’s announcement. “But first and foremost, life is more important than basketball. We’re all wishing everybody the best of health and wellness around the country.”
Later, Mathews tweeted from his own personal account, “I hope I didn’t play my last college game ever that would truly be sick.” He ended the tweet with a sneezing emoji.
I hope I didn’t play my last college game ever that would truly be sick🤧— JO (@jonah_mathews4) March 12, 2020
The Pac-12 joined several other major conferences, including the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeastern, in making the move. A Big East Conference tournament game between St. John’s and Creighton tipped off as scheduled Thursday, only for the conference to reverse course and call off the tournament once the game reached halftime.
“This decision has been made in consultation with our member universities in an effort to limit the spread of the virus and in the interest of the health and safety of our student-athletes, campus personnel, working and event personnel, and all those who attend Pac-12 events,” the conference said in a statement.
Pac-12 statement on men's basketball tournament, Pac-12 sport competitions & Pac-12 championship events: pic.twitter.com/HjJvki3LOT— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) March 12, 2020
The cancellation of March Madness meant the end of the college careers of Mathews and senior teammate Nick Rakocevic and UCLA’s Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski. The same is probably true for USC freshman Onyeka Okongwu, who is expected to enter the NBA draft. UCLA junior guard Chris Smith, the Pac-12’s most improved player, also faces a decision about his future.
UCLA and USC were scheduled to play quarterfinal games Thursday at T-Mobile Arena while trying to boost their chances of landing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
On Tuesday, Pac-12 officials announced the conference tournament would proceed as usual, with fans allowed to attend. A day later, as conference tournaments across the country started to announce that fans would be shut out of games for the balance of their tournaments, the Pac-12 followed suit.
UCLA also canceled its spring football practices scheduled for Thursday and Saturday “out of an abundance of caution,” saying that practice would resume March 31. USC suspended its spring football practices until further notice.
As players from all sports pondered what to do with their new allotment of free time, UCLA freshman guard Jake Kyman offered one idea.
“E-sports is on the rise now, that’s all we got,” Kyman tweeted. “Imma start streaming what’s good.”