FULLERTON, CALIF. >> Less than 5 miles from “The Happiest Place on Earth,” University of Hawaii athletic director David Matlin began hearing rumblings of a not-so-Disneyesque story line.
Meetings turned into cellphone conversations and then to tweets and finally to Matlin’s pained confirmation: The Big West Conference’s basketball tournaments were canceled because of coronavirus fears, effectively ending the seasons for the Rainbow Warriors and Rainbow Wahine.
Then, an hour later, worse came to worst. Following an edict from presidents of the Big West — of which UH fields several teams — Matlin confirmed the indefinite suspension of all UH sporting events played during the spring semester.
With the College World Series and men’s volleyball final four among the events also being nixed, it meant the abrupt end to UH’s men’s volleyball and baseball seasons. The volleyball Warriors were set to play road matches against Cal State Northridge on Friday and Saturday. A day after the Chicago State baseball team arrived in Honolulu for this weekend’s series, the Cougars learned their own league, the Western Athletic Conference, also canceled the spring sports seasons.
Matlin was on conference calls nearly non-stop from when he departed the Fullerton Marriott, where he had been staying for the basketball tournaments, until he was seated on a flight from LAX back to Honolulu. During his calls’ pauses, Matlin said, “Things are moving too fast right now to give specific answers. We’re trying to make thoughtful decisions.”
What has yet to be determined is if teams will be allowed to practice for games they will not play. The UH football team is set to open spring training on March 27. The Warriors’ pro day in front of NFL scouts was scheduled to be hosted by UCLA on March 24 but is now under review. Several UC schools have moved classes from the campus to online. The pro day was supposed to be at the UCLA facilities.
UH basketball coach Eran Ganot said recruiting will not be allowed, at least this week, because of the suspension.
UH baseball coach Mike Trapasso said he first became concerned while following national news on Thursday morning.
“You saw the dominoes falling,” Trapasso said of the basketball cancellations. “It started with the SEC, and going conference after conference. Then the Power Five conferences cancel their basketball tournaments. It was a matter of time before we knew it was going to fall on us.”
Trapasso initially hoped games would resume after a few weeks. But when the College World Series, which is played in June, was canceled, Trapasso focused on keeping his players “engaged.”
“That’s where it all starts,” Trapasso said. “It’s a very disappointing thing for everyone. Again, there’s no one to blame, and it’s nobody’s fault. But that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing. But it’s a big lesson to learn. Life’s not fair. And there are disappointments. This is something we don’t have control over. But we have control over how we react to these disappointments.”
Trapasso said he wants his players to keep busy, maintain their studies, and, if permitted, get “on the field and working three or four days to stop the skills from diminishing. It’s less about the skills than their welfare of being engaged and having something to do rather than sit in their dorm room or apartment feeling sorry the season isn’t going on.”
The ’Bows’ basketball team had hoped Tuesday’s decision to keep all but teams and “essential” personnel from attending the tournaments would appease those concerned about the coronavirus’ spread. But after the NBA suspended its season, and college conferences across the country considered similar acts, it became apparent Big West teams would experience a similar fate.
After being informed of the cancellations, Ganot gathered his team in a hotel conference room, where players and assistant coaches shared their concerns and frustrations. “It’s a surreal experience,” Ganot said after emerging from the meeting, “and it’s still a surreal experience, and I think it will be for a while. You knew it was going in that direction. You had a feeling it was. But there’s something to be said about the finality of the decision.”
It has been a year of adversity for the ’Bows. Two highly regarded prospects did not play this season. Ahmed Ali withdrew from school because of a medical condition. Junior Madut did not receive NCAA clearance until October, delaying his enrollment until January and ensuring a redshirt season. Point guard Drew Buggs’ mother died of cancer. Ganot missed most of the nonconference because of a combination of ailments. Freshman post Bernardo da Silva and wing Samuta missed five games apiece because of injuries. But the ’Bows were relatively healthy entering tournament week. And then, without a final game, the season was pau.
“They didn’t get to finish their stories on their terms,” Ganot said. “It’s easier to say and harder to do, but you can control what you can. We didn’t control this. We’re still in a wait-and-see educational point right now. We’re learning. The whole world is learning together. Our job is to lead. Our job is to protect. Our job is to be smart. Our job is to be safe. And our job also is to be able trust people who know more about this than we do.”