Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: March Madness in Assembly Hall is cause for cautious optimism

March Madness is back, and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall will be the site of multiple first and second round games.

After being canceled last year as the coronavirus pandemic began, the famous college basketball tournaments known as March Madness will return. The women’s tournament is played mostly in San Antonio, and every game of the men’s tournament will be played in Indiana.

Several games will be played in Bloomington from March 18-20. This is only a weekend of play, but that influx of people could still be dangerous for potential spread of COVID-19. The weekend could be nothing but good for Bloomington businesses and Hoosiers’ morale, but the risk of the coronavirus necessitates caution.

The teams playing will all be housed in Indianapolis and bused to and from Bloomington. Crowds will remain limited and distanced. Testing will be regular. These are all essential precautions, but are they enough to keep players, fans and local Hoosiers safe?

The NCAA has not yet decided if fans will be allowed in the games. Regardless, many basketball fans hoping to catch the players or atmosphere of March Madness will still make the trip to Bloomington for the weekend. These fans will patron Bloomington’s restaurants and hotels, which is good for the local economy. But they will also likely gather in larger numbers than advised in celebration or mourning of the team they came to support. 

Bloomington witnessed the danger of congregations of sports fans this fall. Large, mostly unmasked crowds gathered on Kirkwood Avenue to celebrate IU football’s victory against No. 8 Penn State Oct. 24 as local coronavirus cases spiked.

March Madness fans might similarly disregard public health precautions and spread COVID-19 in Bloomington.

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton, aware of potential dangers, advised residents to abide by sensible precautions in his Jan. 10 Mayor’s Corner column for The Herald Times. 

“We all need to continue to exercise the vigilance of physical distancing, masking, personal hygiene to protect against that. We all must still not ‘share air’ with those outside our households unless essential … watch with your pod, not in a crowded place, or any gatherings outside your pod/household,” Hamilton said in the column.

The threat of the coronavirus must be weighed against the importance of basketball to Indiana. The IU men’s basketball team is still revered as a great program even despite recent tournament struggles. I, for one, have watched IU basketball my whole life.

An outlet like basketball is especially important now as entertainment remains limited. Everyone can find a community with supporters of their favorite team. That sense of community has never been more valuable than it is now, when many feel isolated while quarantining and social distancing.

Additionally, the number of new COVID-19 cases has been falling, both nationwide and in Indiana, since mid-January. There is no reason at the moment to assume these numbers will shoot up again, provided people continue to take the necessary precautions.

We can’t relax about COVID-19. While new cases reported are trending downward, the total number of active cases in America is simply plateauing. Tuesday, just under 10 million Americans are infected with the coronavirus. 

How do we strike the balance between due caution and living our lives in a pandemic? People worldwide have been struggling with this question for almost a year, and the answer is not much clearer than it was when the world first encountered the coronavirus. 

Perhaps the answer involves a little basketball, as long as we all remain safe.

Noah Moore (he/him) is a sophomore studying psychology, theater and international studies. He is a Wells Scholar, off-campus representative in Student Body Congress and varsity dancer for the Singing Hoosiers. Noah enjoys listening to music and hiking around Lake Monroe.

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