Breaking: There'll be no March Madness for SEMO women

Southeast Missouri State athletics director Brady Barke did not mince words Thursday.

“It’s a very bad day,” Barke said.

The fear of the spreading of COVID-19 prompted the cancellation of the NCAA women’s and men’s basketball tournaments.

Members of the Southeast Missouri State women's basketball team punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament after knocking off UT Martin 67-47 in the championship of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament recently at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.
Michael Dann ~ Ohio Valley Conference

The decision directly impacts the Redhawk women's program who now will not advance to the nation's most famous roundball tourney.

The Redhawks recently earned an automatic bid to the now-cancelled event courtesy of their victory in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.

A long, previously uninterrupted history

Competition in this event for the men began in 1939 and not even World War II caused a suspension in play.

The women’s tournament started in 1982.

Every year without fail, players, coaches, staff, student-athletes and fans could count on March Madness.

Until this year. Until now.

“(March Madness) is a big deal in America,” fifth-year Redhawks women’s coach Rekha Patterson said. “People give up their days and even take vacation to stay home and watch.

"All that work to get to the top of the mountain,” Barke said, “(It’s) a heartbreak for those who put in the work.”

The Redhawks climbed the apex of the Ohio Valley Conference last Saturday with a solid 67-47 win over OVC no. 1-seed UT-Martin.

Rekha Patterson’s 14-member squad punched its ticket to March Madness and was awaiting selection Monday to discover the opening round’s opponent and venue.

NCAA calls off the dance

Those dreams are ended – as the NCAA joined every conference which had yet to play its own championship tournament in cancelling further competition.

“We heard (about the decision) right before (Thursday’s) practice,” said Patterson.

“There were tears,” she added, “but these ladies have been extremely mature in how they’re handling this.”

“Not seeing your name called (on ESPN’s Selection Show) is tough,” said Barke. “Our student-athletes (are behaving) like true champions and adults.”

Shephard's high road

Redhawks co-captain and redshirt senior, Carrie Shephard, posted words of gratitude an hour after the NCAA decision via Twitter.

“I’m blessed and grateful to end my collegiate career with SEMO and as an OVC champ,” Shephard tweeted.

Shephard was one of two local Redhawks on the team. The graduate of South Pemiscot High in Steele and will receive a master’s degree in educational administration this May.

Along with junior Tesia Thompson, Shephard was recognized with First Team OVC honors. The other local Redhawk is freshman Sophia Hancock, who is from Puxico.

The OVC was one of two conferences – the Mountain West the other – which finished its women’s tournament before the NCAA pulled the plug.

At least the Redhawks have the satisfaction of winning their conference tourney.

“Absolutely,” Barke agreed. “Not very many (athletes) got to end with a win.

“The health, safety, and well-being – the best interests of everybody – has to be top priority,” he added.

Getting information

Patterson said Southeast’s team physicians met with her squad Wednesday.

“The doctors talked about the virus to educate (the squad),” Patterson said. “They told us about the difference between the flu and the coronavirus and about the health and safety (needs) of others.”

How it affects SEMO

Barke was asked what the financial impact of no NCAA tournament will have on Southeast.

‘I have no idea,” he said, "but we lose the exposure (of March Madness), the chance to be on the map.”

Barke accepts that cancelling the tournament colloquially referred to as “the Big Dance” was a last resort, given the $867.5 million in revenue the tournament generated in 2019 television rights and through other marketing.

“I am surprised how quickly the decision progressed,” said Barke, “but I’m less surprised about the NCAA tournament (cancellation) than I am about the OVC decision about (our) spring sports.”

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