Duke, Virginia, and Kansas — three current college basketball bluebloods — were eliminated from their conference tournaments over a 28-hour stretch. The same stretch where a nation paused to remember what it was like when the sports world shut down a year ago and basked in the knowledge that things would be different this March. And things will be different. The NCAA Tournament will go on as scheduled. There will be a winner. It's just going to be a white-knuckle ride, as has been the constant for some 366 days.
Virginia and Kansas now have real concerns that they won't be able to participate. The clock is ticking. If we know anything, it's not to expect to know how things will play out. It will be a damn shame if these two teams with realistic national-title abilities aren't able to compete for a second straight year. It's a painful reminder of the risks still out there and how tenuous laid plans can be.
On that thought, it's probably best to gird against the very real possibility that these won't be the last teams impacted. Hope remains for a smooth, 68-team NCAA Tournament in which the advancing team wins on the court. Yet there could be some forfeits. Those forfeits could be from top-seeded teams. Traditional madness could be even more maddening.
Because seeing kids' dreams stifled is gutting. There's been so much sacrifice that it wouldn't be right for it to be taken away by a rogue positive test. And yet here we are, knowing full well that might happen.
It's hardly a top concern, but filling out a bracket this year is going to be entirely different. There's no accounting for a Gonzaga suddenly exiting the tournament before tipping off. Or Michigan falling into trouble before an Elite Eight game. What once felt impossible now feels possible. And yes, it's a weird angle to focus on in the wake of health concerns and denied opportunity. But so often things only become real for people when it affects them.
There's simply no way to predict with any confidence which teams, if any, will be impacted. Hopefully, it's zero. I am personally optimistic that things will be fine when all 68 participants make it to Indiana. The sky isn't falling yet. But it may. And there's no clearly marked safe spaces if it does.