Spartans coaches, athletes come to terms with premature end to seasons, careers

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Just like that, what was shaping up to be a spring full of potential and excitement was gone.

It was the case all over the country and in the Big Ten on Thursday as events and eventually entire seasons were canceled because concerns over the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Tom Izzo said telling his players their season was over was difficult.

It was a sting that was hard to avoid at Michigan State.

The men’s basketball team was set to head to Indianapolis on Thursday afternoon for the Big Ten tournament before entering the NCAA Tournament on a roll, looking like one of the favorites to get back to the Final Four and potentially win a national championship.

The football team, for the first time under new coach Mel Tucker, was preparing to begin spring practice next week while former Spartans were gearing up for their NFL pro day.

All across campus, teams were in the thick of their seasons, from men’s and women’s golf to baseball and softball.

However, it was all wiped out on Thursday when first, the Big Ten announced its basketball tournaments were canceled and later said all sports through the remainder of the school year would be ended. The NCAA also dropped the biggest bomb, announcing the men’s basketball tournament would also be canceled.

Effectively, the Spartans, like the rest of their Big Ten partners, were done.

“We support the Big Ten’s decision to cancel all competition through the end of the academic year and the moratorium placed on all on- and off-campus recruiting,” athletic director Bill Beekman said in a statement. “There’s nothing more important than the health of our student-athletes. While this was an incredibly difficult decision, one that will effectively end the college careers of many student-athletes, their well-being must be our highest priority.”

While it was an unprecedented end to the season for dozens of student-athletes, it was an especially cruel end for basketball seniors Cassius Winston, Kyle Ahrens and Conner George.

The trio was ready for one final shot at the Final Four and had built momentum entering the postseason. The Spartans closed the regular season on a five-game winning streak, including four wins in a row over ranked teams.

Finally, they looked more like the team that was ranked No. 1 entering the season. Instead, the win over Ohio State on Sunday was the final game as the seniors went out kissing the Spartan logo at midcourt.

“I’m obviously disappointed to have our season come to such an abrupt end,” basketball coach Tom Izzo said. “It goes without saying, this is something that none of us have ever experienced. I feel most for our seniors, for guys like Cassius and Kyle and Conner, who wanted to have one last shot at March Madness. Telling them their career was over was extremely emotional. 

“But these are unprecedented times and some things are bigger than basketball. The primary concern for all of us is the health and well-being of our students-athlete, staff and fans.”

Based on the Big Ten’s directive that all events and practices were ending, it would seem that would encompass spring football, as well. However, a team spokesman said on Thursday evening that the situation is “fluid” and there was no official announcement on the status of spring practice, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

The baseball team, which was scheduled to play this weekend at Indiana State, had its home opener slated for Wednesday against Toledo. The softball team was scheduled to play this weekend at Miami (Ohio) and next weekend at Northwestern before its home opener March 25 against Oakland.

Men’s and women’s track and field, men’s and women’s tennis and men’s and women’s golf were all also in the midst of their seasons.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the hard work and dedication shown by our student-athletes throughout the year,” Beekman said. “We will continue to provide comprehensive support for student-athletes, including academic and athletic training services moving forward.” @mattcharboneau