The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt wants to recognize student-athletes whose seasons were cut short

Maryland's Anthony Cowan got his moment to celebrate. Scott Van Pelt is looking to help other student athletes do the same. (Nick Wass/AP)

The unprecedented cancellation of the 2020 NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments led to unceremonious endings for student-athletes across the country.

With the sports world at a standstill, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt found himself searching for answers. The measures being taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are for the benefit and safety of each program, but they resulted in a high number of high school and college athletes who won’t get to see their amateur careers all the way through.

On Friday afternoon, Van Pelt took to Twitter, where he has more than 2 million followers, tweeting: “So many college and HS athletes saw their seasons, maybe their playing careers, just....end. No send off, no nothing. We want to fix that. Share their stories, photos & videos here. We should certainly have the room for some join the show. Let’s celebrate them #SeniorNight.”

When Van Pelt got home from hosting Thursday’s late-night “SportsCenter,” he told The Washington Post, there was an email chain from members of ESPN’s social media team that suggested using #SeniorDay as a way to celebrate those whose seasons — and careers — are forever incomplete.

“After our show Thursday, I said to our group: ‘We ought to shine a light on some of the athletes whose seasons ended out of nowhere. Men, women, big and small schools. Have them on the show, whatever,’” Van Pelt said. “God knows we will have the space.

“I feel, selfishly, crushed and cheated that I don’t get to watch. I can’t imagine how bad it would be to have the ability to be in the arena [and have it] just end like that. On a Thursday afternoon in March. It’s just over?”

Feinstein: NCAA will be fine. But for college basketball players, this is beyond sad.

Van Pelt, a University of Maryland alum, had a personal stake in witnessing his alma mater finish out its best men’s basketball season in years. The Terrapins won their final regular season game to clinch a three-way tie for the Big Ten regular season crown. While Maryland didn’t have the chance to compete in its conference tournament, Van Pelt sympathizes with those whose universities didn’t finish their seasons on the same note as his.

“As much of a bummer as it was for Maryland’s season to just end, at least [senior guard] Anthony Cowan got his senior night,” Van Pelt added. “[He] got to walk off with a net around his neck. I just thought of how many athletes in other sports got nothing. It was just over. How do we honor them? What can we do? I guess we will see.”

March Madness is worth billions to the NCAA and networks. Canceling will cost them.

An NCAA committee announced Friday that a number of spring athletes will be granted another year of eligibility after this week’s cancellations. The committee will reportedly discuss the possibility of granting extra eligibility to winter-sport athletes, whose seasons have either already finished or were near completion.

Van Pelt’s tweet received more than 1,000 replies in its first three hours. Sorting through the comments will be a collaborative effort among his team at ESPN, but it’s a small venture with which he is pleased to have been involved.

“I just sent a tweet,” Van Pelt said. “Don’t really know how it manifests itself from there.”

“I have no idea how long we will do it. I have no idea what it will look like. They will be providing content, which we will clearly be lacking. But what we get out of it is what we can give: the spotlight to share their story. Based on the initial response, it seems there will be no shortage of worthy stories to share.”

More from The Post:

How did Mark Turgeon and the Terps handle the NCAA tournament cancellation? Together.

What if Cinderella never made the ball? Ask Hofstra.

College basketball’s swan song was a MEAC women’s quarterfinal in Norfolk

CAA men’s basketball tournament official tests positive for coronavirus

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