By James D’Elia
The Hofstra University Men’s Basketball team clinched a spot in the NCAA March Madness tournament on March 10 after finishing the season with 26 wins and 8 losses. Or so they thought. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the tournament, which means Hofstra’s 19-year drought of not playing in the tournament will continue for at least one more year.
On March 12, for the first time since 1938, March Madness was cancelled. Hofstra has never won their conference championship until this season and their last bid to the NCAA tournament was in 2001. For the remainder of the spring season, college arenas and brackets will remain empty, along with the hearts of all 68 rosters, including a Hofstra team denied a chance at a possible first-round upset.
“On Tuesday night [March 10], we walked off the court as champions with nets around our necks …” Associate Head Coach Michael Farrelly said. “That’s going to be one of the greatest nights of your life. And then … less than 48 hours later, the tournament gets canceled and you feel like your heart got ripped out, and it’s one of the worst days that you’ll have.”
After securing the No. 1 seed and home court advantage throughout the Colonial Athletic Association’s conference tournament, the Pride defeated No. 6 Northeastern in the championship to capture their first ever CAA title and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. The Pride made it to the conference championship last season, where they faced the same opponent in Northeastern, losing 82-74. To many, this was a season of redemption for the Pride, to win their conference and represent all of Long Island in the NCAA tournament.
“Once we lost that game, it started the day after,” senior guard/forward Connor Klementowicz said. “All of us guys were like, ‘We’ve got to do this next year, we’ve got to come back stronger’ … After the season was over, I remember we were all right back in the weight room, all volunteer lifting.”
Other major sports leagues have also suspended their seasons: the NBA and NHL are in a hiatus. Yet, the NCAA cancelled the tournament and the rest of spring sports for all colleges before all other professional sports leagues suspended play, including the women’s basketball tournament and the baseball College World Series. Instead of reassessing all possible options, to ensure the health and safety of all players, coaches and fans, it was in the organization’s best interests to eliminate the tournament completely.
“The NFL, MLB and NHL are all going to be on hold until at least August,” Hofstra alum Greg Stengel, who graduated in 2017, said. “It’s hard to imagine the NCAA tournament in August or September, that’s when the regular season starts for 2020… It really stinks, but you know, I get the decision.”
Three seniors, including Klementowicz, are graduating and will not be returning for the Pride and have played their final games in college. Coach Farrelly believes that this year, although it was cut short, will not go down as a failure and that Hofstra will come back even stronger next year.
“The battle cry with the returning guys will be, ‘hey, we won the [conference] championship, we’re going to hang a banner,’” Coach Farrelly said. “We never got the full experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament, let’s have that full experience [next] year. That can be our way to rally these guys to get them to work and get them to focus for next year.”