PROVO — A couple of weeks ago, BYU coach Mark Pope was in the middle of educating his players about COVID-19 when he received the sobering news that the NCAA Tournament was being canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Pope detailed the experience of informing his team that there would be no March Madness on the latest episode of Boyd Matheson’s podcast, “Therefore, What?”
The Cougars were looking forward to playing in their first NCAA Tournament in five years and they were preparing for practice on the afternoon of March 12.
“We were about to go out on the practice floor. Guys were taped up and in their practice gear and we were in the film room. We had prepared a five-slide educational PowerPoint on the coronavirus, actually. We were in the middle of doing that presentation when my assistant coach Cody Fueger waved his phone in front of my face with the announcement that the tournament is being canceled,” Pope said. “We had been hoping desperately that they would hold it with no fans and then when that looked like that wasn’t promising, we were hoping that desperately that they would postpone it so we would at least have a chance. Then when it came out as a straight cancellation, it was a hit for us.”
Pope emphasized that he and his team realize this pandemic has a major impact on far more important aspects of life than just basketball.
“We fully understand the really, really awful, global life-and-death implications of this on the world. Not just health-wise but also job-wise and mental health-wise. We can grasp it and we understand the gravity of the situation. I would never want anybody to misunderstand our understanding that when I also say that it was an incredibly devastating moment for our team. It was devastating,” he said. “These guys have been dreaming about this their whole lives. They’ve been literally in the throes of physically and mentally chasing it for years, chasing this elusive prize that they treasured so much. And then they finally got it. It was right there. There was no work left to be done except to prepare for it. Then for it to be pulled from them like that was really hard. There were a lot of tears and a lot of uncomfortable and sad silence. We’ve been trying to deal with it every day since then.”