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Proceed with caution

The NCAA is making a tough call now in hopes it will ease tensions - and the spread of COVID-19 - later

—AP Photo Signs like this on the campus of Johns Hopkins University before a Division III tournament game in Baltimore will be common at arenas country-wide during the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Some of the hardest decisions in life come when there are no definitive solutions in sight.

The NCAA’s unprecedented call to keep fans away from all major upcoming championship tournaments — men’s basketball, women’s basketball and wrestling — certainly shocked our system. Due to the increased threat of COVID-19 in the United States, organization president Mark Emmert and his team made the seismic announcement and pulled the plug on Wednesday afternoon.

We knew this was a possible conclusion, of course, but the reality of an actual atmosphere-less March Madness still seemed surreal once word became official. I can only imagine what it will be like when the tournaments get under way.

Of course, Emmert’s press release drew immediate ire. This changes plans, compromises the brand, and will cost communities millions. In general, the public doesn’t trust or respect the NCAA much. It is often presumed to be a selfish, greedy, dysfunctional outfit.

I suppose it’s entirely possible that the NCAA is simply trying to avoid liability issues down the road. Hypothetically speaking, if a paper trail to a virus cluster was traced back to a location or date, the organization could be facing legal trouble or worse for not taking necessary precautions when it had the chance.

I’m going to try my best to take everything at face value today, though, and give Emmert and his panel the benefit of the doubt.

Does it seem a little panicky and illogical to go to such extreme measures? If you’re asking for my personal opinion, I would say yes. Like everyone else, I’m trying my best to navigate this news and decipher information as it pours into our lives on a seemingly-endless loop. In a social media world, that isn’t easy.

I’m no expert, though. In fact, the vast majority of us aren’t. So when we hear medical professionals worldwide — people who are at or near ground zero in our hospitals and nursing homes — express their concerns over how this is spread and why it can be so exponentially dangerous, we should listen.

I realize the number of cases are incredibly low in this country right now. And I realize otherwise-healthy people of normal age aren’t exactly staring down the Bubonic plague here. But the idea — at least at this point — is to try and keep COVID-19 away from the vulnerable, who face a much more grim outlook if exposed.

Letting large gatherings, like at concerts or athletic events, continue as planned would be testing both logic and fate. And we have to continue to remind ourselves, it’s not about one individual and their own personal comfort zone. It’s about mitigating the damage and trying to contain the fire for the greater good — or “flattening the curve,” as some have described on social media.

In defense of the NCAA, they’re trying to be proactive. It may seem like a dramatic step to us, but if it helps to nip the rapid spread in the bud as experts have indicated, our short-term frustration and inconvenience is certainly better than the alternative.

It’s easy for us to sit back and speak in extremes from behind a keyboard or next to a water cooler. Thousands are flocking to stores to stock up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer and surgical masks (stop doing that; the more you hoard necessary products, the harder it is for others to obtain the essentials that will help keep all viruses in check). Thousands act like there should be no change or interruption to their daily routine (a sure-fire way to get blindsided when you least expect it or pass something along that could otherwise be kept under control).

My hope is that a month or two from now, our society will be lucky enough to laugh off the true dangers of COVID-19 because — behind the scenes — our leaders took necessary precautions to keep it from becoming much worse than it could have been. We’ll trash the NCAA for being way too fatalistic about its golden goose, and claim we were right all along about such a “ridiculous overreaction.”

If hospitals, schools, arenas and stadiums continue to err on the side of caution, so be it. The casual heckling or even righteous indignation is a small price for universities and organizations like the NCAA to pay if it truly helps extinguish a potentially-dangerous situation before it’s too late.

They’re addressing questions with no true answers as we go in real time. It’s not easy or obvious. We should stop pretending otherwise as fans of these sports and citizens of this country. Respect the decision and hope your frustration remains on a level as trivial — in the grand scheme of things — as missing out on the 2020 tournament experience.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports

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