Maybe the math finally brained them a good one. You'd like to think so.
You'd like to think – even in Indiana, and even in March – something could break our addiction to high school basketball, a 12-step program weaning us off Plump 'n' Oscar 'n' Damon 'n' them. Not just any old pandemic was going to cancel what we used to call Hoosier Hysteria before the great division of 1998. No, sir.
And so as the NBA and the NHL and finally March Madness itself went away in the face of the unthinkable scourge of COVID-19, the IHSAA matched unthinkable with unthinkable. March would go on – in front of ghosts and echoes in empty gyms, but it would go on. Even the state gymnastics meet would go on.
Then came Friday afternoon, 20 hours or so before the morning-round regional tips. And the math finally concussed Bobby Cox and the gang hard enough to knock some sense into them.
(Although, as this is written, the gymnastics meet is still a go at Ball State. The gymnasts will be balance-beaming and floor-exing in front of vacant seats in Worthen Arena, but still. Lord only knows what's up with that.)
The math wasn't hard, after all. Even the 2-Plus-2-Equals-I'm-Stumped crowd could suss it out.
It went like this: Sixty-four teams at 32 regional sites going back to 64 communities at day's end. That's 15 or so players and coaches per team, plus trainers and managers and administrators, plus parents. Which works out, very conservatively, to about 1,250 individuals.
Traveling to and from regional sites from Washington and Loogootee in southern Indiana to Michigan City up by Chicago. Stopping for gas, maybe. Stopping for lunch or dinner on the way home ...
Well. You get the picture.
And, well, maybe the IHSAA finally got the picture, too. It took Cox and the rest entirely too long, but they tend to be a stubborn lot. That's especially the case when it's their cash cow and centerpiece, with all the entrenched and ringing culture that attends it.
Yet they did the right thing, in the end. They did.
First, they had precedent; the IHSAA postponed the tournament for three weeks during the energy crisis in 1978. And, second, a high school basketball tournament in Indiana, braided into the Hoosier fabric though it may be, is not a high school basketball tournament at all without the fans. It's just going through the motions because you've got some trophies to hand out.
That would have been not just reckless, but an utter farce. And what would that have added to so rich a tapestry?
Ben Smith is a former sportswriter for The Journal Gazette.