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Gonzaga’s Mike Roth, Mark Few felt NCAA Tournament postponement could have been option; understand cancellation

UPDATED: Thu., March 12, 2020

Gonzaga University athletic director Mike Roth speaks to the media shortly after NCAA officials announced the cancellation of the annual NCAA Tournament, dubbed “March Madness,” during a press conference Thursday, Mar. 12, 2020, at Gonzaga University. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga University athletic director Mike Roth speaks to the media shortly after NCAA officials announced the cancellation of the annual NCAA Tournament, dubbed “March Madness,” during a press conference Thursday, Mar. 12, 2020, at Gonzaga University. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few was literally 20 seconds into answering a question live on ESPN when he was interrupted by Rece Davis.

Davis informed Few that the NCAA had just announced it was canceling all winter and spring championships, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Few had been in phone conversations with numerous coaches throughout the morning, and there was 100% consensus that they hoped the NCAA would postpone the tournament and make a final decision at a later date, when more information was available.

“Extremely, extremely disappointed,” Few told Davis. “I think all of us felt we could postpone and even postpone into May or whatever, and if we needed to cancel, we could cancel then. But if that’s what they’re doing, then I guess that’s what they’re doing.”

Second-ranked Gonzaga (31-2) was projected to be a No. 1 seed and expected to open the NCAA Tournament at the Spokane Arena. The GU women (28-3) were expected to host a four-team pod at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Few met with his team Thursday afternoon. The players’ reactions ranged from tears to anger to stunned silence.

“There was a lot of emotion involved there, and rightfully so,” athletic director Mike Roth said. “They’ve been working not just all this year, for some of them it’s been their whole life.

“I guess we can still say we qualified for the NCAA Tournament (for the 22nd consecutive season), that’s been a great thing, but we don’t take any one of those for granted. That (tournament) opportunity that was not made available to our student-athletes is unfortunate. It’s something that’s happened, but yeah, there’s a lot of emotion right now.”

The NCAA said Wednesday the tournament would go on as scheduled but restrict attendance to essential personnel and limited family members. The decision to cancel the NCAA Tournaments came after a flurry of conference basketball tournament cancellations earlier Thursday.

“Missing out on this opportunity to have the hometown team playing here and having our fans be part of that, it was bad enough the other day when it was no fans, but we were still going to be able to play,” Roth said. “And now not even getting to play, it’s a double whammy, that’s for sure.”

Few called it “a sad, sad day.”

“We talk a lot (with players) about controlling what you can control,” he said. “This is obviously something that they can’t control.

“Again, we may or may not have gotten to this conclusion at some point, but I think we probably could have at least paused and delayed it before we did this. But again, there’s so many things that are factored in, so I’ll leave that up to the NCAA.”

Roth said Gonzaga’s spring sports have been canceled. The WCC later announced the cancellation of spring practices, competitions and conference championship events.

The landscape changed swiftly after Gonzaga defeated Saint Mary’s 84-66 on Tuesday night in the WCC title game in Las Vegas. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday night, prompting the NBA to suspend its season.

All five major conferences canceled their basketball tournaments Thursday, and Major League Baseball pushed back opening day at least two weeks.

“I knew right then and there (after Gobert’s test results) that the dynamic was changing, and everything kind of amped up after that,” Few said. “I think the NBA made the proper move. I think we were all hoping the NCAA would make the proper move and we’d just postpone, hoping that maybe at a later date we could pick this thing back up. It doesn’t sound like we can, so we’ll have to move on from there.”

Few said the coaches he spoke with from top programs agreed that a postponement could provide a chance to stage the tournament later, provided safety and health concerns were satisfied. May Madness, instead of March Madness, became a popular topic on social media outlets.

Roth agreed with Few, but acknowledged it would have been difficult to put together logistically.

The euphoria of winning the WCC Tournament has been followed by two surreal days that have rocked the sports world.

“They earned this opportunity (to play in Spokane), nobody has given it to them,” Roth said of the men’s and women’s teams. “It’s just really too bad for Spokane, not just Gonzaga.”

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