Some people are pretty good at calling unlikely things when it comes to sports. Maybe you called Max Duggan going beast mode to put Texas in the ground last October. Maybe you called TCU knocking off No. 2 Baylor in February. Maybe you even called Jalen Reagor going in the first round of the NFL draft to the team with which his father, Montae, ended his career.
Regardless, what I know you didn’t call is that a worldwide pandemic caused by a seafood market in Wuhan, China, would pull the plug on sports for the majority (and possibly even entirety) of 2020. Here’s a look into my life as a college student/sports journalist as I found out my studies, reporting, and fandom would look quite a bit different this semester than I originally thought.
I head from TCU to my home in Houston, Texas, for a week of spring break. Due to scheduling issues, I will not be heading to Kansas City for the Big 12 tournament, so I will be covering the event for TCU 360 from home. While the COVID-19 pandemic has given Americans reason for concern, the thought of anything being significantly altered is not even in my mind. I pack light and leave without saying “goodbye” to my friends or coworkers, thinking that I will return in seven days.
My mind is finally starting to wrap around the weight of the pandemic. In the early afternoon, I open my email to find an urgent alert from Chancellor Boschini. Our spring break has been extended a week, and TCU will host classes online until April 3rd. Wow. How will this affect my grades? Will teachers know how to teach online? Do I have enough clothes to last that long? Should I move back to Fort Worth to cover sports? Will sports be affected? All of these thoughts and more race through my head as I process this new information.
Three hours later, TCU Athletics sends a similar message. All TCU sporting events will be held without fans until April 3rd. My heart instantly breaks for Desmond Bane. Assuming the Frogs don’t win the Big 12 tourney, they will likely get an NIT bid. Now, one of the best to ever do it for TCU will possibly play his final college game in an empty arena.
While the day had seemed rough already, it was far from over. I travelled to a local sports bar to watch the Frogs take on Kansas State in the first round of the Big 12 tourney. Following the downhill pattern of the day, the Frogs were behind by 10 at half time, which was surprising, as they had played some of their worst basketball of the year to that point.
Meanwhile, the sports world was falling apart around us. Woj dropped his biggest bomb to date: the NBA season had been suspended following the announcement that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for coronavirus. My phone started to blow up with friends and fellow journalists reacting to the news. I put my head in my hands, knowing that the TCU meltdown I was currently watching would be the last sporting event I would watch live for the rest of the school year, at least.
As we all know, the Frogs lost that night. I went home knowing life would be different for a long time. The scariest part? No one knew how long
Another day brought more bad news. The Big 12, along with every other major conference, had canceled their men’s and women’s tournaments. Next came the decision to cancel the NIT and the NCAA tournaments. This one hurt the most. Not only did this verify the fact that Desmond Bane had played his last game for TCU, but it also washed away the hopes that players like Kianna Ray of the TCU women’s team would ever have a chance to see the Big Dance. Personally, March madness is my favorite time of year. It brings America together as we gasp, cheer, and cry over teams and players we never knew we cared about. Now, it was gone. Wow.
This was the day I think I realized that I would be telling my kids about the Coronavirus pandemic. I wasn’t going back to school for a long time. This was a time that would be seared in history forever.
The Big 12 announced that all sporting events were canceled through the end of the academic year. This was expected, but seeing it in stone seemed to shove the nails further into the coffin. This meant the electric start TCU baseball had seen in 2020 would never see fruition. This meant that TCU football wouldn’t have a spring game for the second-straight year. Thousands of athletes saw their last chance at glory taken by something completely out of their control. Announcements like this put things in perspective for me. Would the NBA or MLB be able to finish/start their seasons? Would the 2020 college football or NFL seasons be able to start on time? How would this affect things like recruiting? As you can tell, this week brought hundreds of questions in my mind both about my life and the livelihood of the sports world. I wanted answers, but all I could do was wait.
As time went on, my daily routine became the same: check every credible website on the internet for good news about the virus, find relevant content to share with the sports media world via article or tweet, and watch all the sports highlights that I could find. Now, school was returning. It’s not like I didn’t have enough time on my hands for my studies, but finding motivation to get on a zoom call at 9:30 in the morning is not exactly easy.
Learning online was new, but I found that TCU did its best to accommodate for struggles that students would face. One of my teachers recorded her lectures, knowing that getting 30-plus students from across the country on a zoom call would be hard for both parties. Two other teachers cut down on the times we would typically meet during the week. Those classes that did keep their usual hours were discussion-based, requiring class time to get through the syllabus. On top of that, teachers were lenient on due dates and made most of their tests and quizzes open note/book. Each of my teachers took time to personally see how I was doing and check to see if they could help me in any way. Chancellor Boschini himself even checked in on the students basically weekly. Overall, I could tell that I attended a university that really cared about my well-being. In a time of uncertainty, this gave me assurance that everything was going to be okay. I still needed to work hard to finish the semester, but I didn’t need to stress out about my grades. We were all in this together.
I watched a video of Desmond Bane crossing up Freddie Gillespie about a hundred times just to see what it looked like to properly social distance. I missed sports, a lot.
For me, and many of us, this was my first time to not go to church on Easter. It felt like the day that holds such an important place in my life was undermined by the fact that we watched the service on our TV. In the wake of something so unfortunate, I was, once again, encouraged by the things that really mattered in my life. No matter what is going on, the people we love are always what matter most. That day, I got to spend extended quality time with my family. I also saw a beautiful display of unity in TCU Athletics’ “Lean on Me” video (which PJ Fuller killed, by the way). It was things like that which reminded me where the true value in life remains. It isn’t in where we are or what we are doing but who we are with and how we are loving them. I think we can all agree that Easter 2020 will likely be the most unique of all time.
As a LeBron James fan, I never thought that Michael Jordan highlights could get me amped. Nevertheless, the premier of “The Last Dance” represented something more than just honoring an all-time legend. It meant bringing the sports world back together. If you loved sports, you were watching it live. Twitter blew up with commentary on the project. Life in the sports world, for a second, felt normal again. I guess that’s the beauty of sports.
After scrounging to find relevant content for my sports articles for over a month (amongst my schoolwork), I was relieved that the NFL draft had arrived, giving me something live to cover. Even more special was the plethora of Horned Frogs that were sure to find new homes that night/weekend. Because I don’t have cable, I had to go to a friend’s house to cover the draft (yes, I know, breaking social distance policies). It wasn’t exactly an ideal working experience, but that didn’t take away from the utter joy I experienced when I heard “Jalen Reagor” come out of Roger Goodell’s mouth. I instantly got to work. My article was ready to be published when Jeff Gladney became the second Frog off the board moments later. As a student journalist, it was surreal for me to see guys that I had interacted with personally to get drafted to the pros. Over the next few days, TCU players continued to get picked up, with five going in the draft and five more snagged as undrafted free agents. In a way, this felt like it made up for the 5-7 season that TCU football had in 2019. With the most draft picks in both Texas and the Big 12, TCU seemed to be sticking it to all of those Baylor and A&M fans who love to talk on Twitter. It was a great weekend. I can’t wait to watch Reagor and Co. tear it up on Sundays.
The TCU beat crew, plus a few ESPN guys, joined Mark Cohen and Gary Patterson for a zoom interview. Gary touched on the draft, where the current team stands, and a possible start date for college football. This was another one of these moments that made things feel slightly normal again. It was great to see those dedicated to covering the Frogs as well as hear GP’s raspy voice talk for about an hour. Icing on the cake? Amon G. Carter will soon be rocking to Gary Patterson’s own original tunes. What else could I ask for in life? Mark ensured us that calls like these will continue throughout the spring and into the summer. That was great to hear, both for my job and my sanity.
After packing up my one suitcase for a “week” at home, I’ve now been in Houston for almost two months. My belongings are still in Fort Worth, but TCU has been very helpful in finding a time for me to come get them. All that stands between me and summer break is one week of finals (and a few more articles). Things here are returning to normal, though life won’t be “normal” for quite a while.
Was it unfortunate that I was unable to finish my sophomore year of school and sports reporting in person? Yes, however, I don’t pity myself. Thanks to a loving family, thoughtful teachers, and the beauty of sports, I will walk out of this crisis largely unscathed. I still got to spend quality time with others, I still got to learn, and I still got to write. On the other hand, I do pity those who lost jobs, loved ones, or even their own lives because of the Coronavirus pandemic. I believe that’s what we can learn from this situation: life isn’t about complaining when things don’t go our way. Instead, we should focus on how we’ve been blessed and how we can use our time and efforts to help others.
I hope this article has given you a peak into the life of a student/sports journalist in quarantine and perhaps something to think about on how perspective is everything, especially at a time like this.