Written by Chris Kubala
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a blow to sports fans around the globe when it wreaked havoc starting earlier this year. We’ve seen the NBA and the NHL put on pause since mid-March, major league baseball continues to postpone opening day and March Madness getting canceled in college basketball. Only now, more than two months later, are we starting to see things return to the playing surface, though those games, for the most part, are still being played without fans. In light of those sports coming back to life so to speak, we’ve seen another future event postponed, taking a marquee event off the books for the upcoming college basketball season.
On Wednesday, the inaugural Basketball Hall of Fame London Showcase doubleheader at the O2 Arena in London was postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That doubleheader was expected to take place December 6 but now will be moved to the 2022 season. In a statement that the "unknown combination" of health, safety, international travel regulations and the economic viabilities for all parties required postponing the event.
The event was to be highlighted by a marquee matchup between Kentucky and Michigan. Last season, Kentucky was 25-6 on the year and finished #8 in the rankings before the season ground to a halt. Michigan had their struggles in the first season of the Juwan Howard era as head coach, going 19-12 overall and 10-10 in Big Ten action, leaving them ninth in the conference. Both schools were disappointed but understood the rationale of the decision to postpone the matchup until 2022. John Calipari expressed his feelings on the matter with the following statement:
"But I'm glad we were all able to come together, figure this out and preserve this series for the future. This was a tough decision for the Hall of Fame because we all want to play this game in London, but I support the group's decision in putting everyone's health concerns first and pushing a temporary pause on this.”
Howard echoed the sentiments of Calipari himself, saying: “The Hall of Fame took the time to review what is happening around the world and explore all options -- all the safe options for the teams and most importantly the fans. The best thing is this tremendous event isn't canceled, it's just delayed."
The London matchup was going to be the opening game of a three-game set between the schools. As it stands now, they will meet in Ann Arbor on December 4, 2021 at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor before heading to London now for the 2022 matchup. The final matchup will come on December 2, 2023 at the Rupp Arena in Lexington. Matching up a pair of big programs like the Wildcats and Wolverines was expected to draw plenty of eyeballs to the college hoops experience in London.
Of course, it wasn’t just the blue bloods of college basketball that were going to benefit from taking part in the event. Mid-major programs Marist of the MAAC and UMBC of the America East Conference were scheduled to square off in the other game on the slate. It would have been a big boost for those schools, who don’t necessarily see much in the way of nationally televised contests or massive crowds, giving them a chance to showcase themselves. UMBC made a major impact back in the 2017-18 season when they became the first 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament to beat a 1 seed with their shocking win over Virginia. However, last season was a down year for Ryan Odom and the Retrievers as they finished 16-17 overall. Marist was a dismal 7-23 last year, going 6-14 in the MAAC.
While the decision was disappointing for fans, in addition to the coaches and players, it was the right one in the grand scheme of things. There’s no point in running the risk of creating the potential for a massive outbreak or flareup of the COVID-19 pandemic just for the sake of a couple of college basketball games. We’ll just look forward to seeing this matchup when the teams take the floor across the pond two years from now.