With apologies to singer/songwriter Don McLean and his epic 1971 hit “American Pie,” March 12, 2020, was the day the music died at the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball tournament.
The SEC had gotten in just two games the night before in Nashville, Tennessee, when commissioner Greg Sankey made the announcement he didn’t want to make: The league was canceling the remainder of the five-day, 13-game tournament because of the coronavirus outbreak, an hour before the afternoon session was set to start.
With the safety of coaches, players and fans in mind, Sankey made the agonizing decision to call off the tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
In the city known as Music City USA, in an arena located smack in the middle of dozens of Broadway Street honky-tonks featuring live country tunes, everything went silent.
LSU, which had a double-bye and wasn’t playing until the next evening, was getting ready for a team breakfast when coach Will Wade received the news it wouldn’t be playing after all — kicking off a chaotic and somber day for the Tigers.
The Advocate’s coverage team — myself and columnist Scott Rabalais — had just checked into our hotel. We were planning to go to the arena to pick up our credentials and take in the full slate of four second-round games.
We never made it. It marked the first time in four-plus decades in this business that my assignment was canceled after I was already on site.
The rest of the day, as busy and hectic as it was, and quick turnaround for the trip home the next morning, were surreal — especially when the NCAA tournament and all winter and spring sports championships were canceled 4½ hours after the SEC’s announcement.
Wade put it all in perspective during a phone interview minutes after he got the news that his team’s season was suddenly over.
“Look, we get so caught up in what we do with basketball and what we’ve got going on in our little world,” he said. “But it’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot of stuff going on.
“It was the right decision. … It was 100% the right call.”
That was the day the music died.