OPINION: Covering the tournament that wasn’t


Morgan Anderson

Marshall Sunner, sports editor for the Sunflower News, sits inside Texas Wesleyan and reports on the AAC Tournament cancellation announcement on Thursday, March 12.

I was there in Fort Worth. No, I didn’t have inside scoops on what the American Athletic Conference was going to do. I had hunches, but I thought the decision to call off the conference tournament was still a ways in the future.

Three of us from The Sunflower made the trip to Texas on Wednesday to cover this tournament. When we got outside of Fort Worth, we were met with the first round of breaking news. The AAC wasn’t going to allow fans into the tournament due to an NCAA policy change, and media members weren’t going to be allowed in locker rooms. That’s when I had to start thinking.

In a tournament setting, the locker room is the best place to interview athletes. You just get more raw emotion and tone-setting than you do in the regular season press conference setting. It was going to be difficult to get these types of stories now, but that was our biggest concern at the time. 

The last thing Sunflower staffers talked about that night was how the NBA was suspending their season in response to a player testing positive for COVID-19.

In a way, we knew what was coming — but not that it was coming so fast.

The Shockers were set to practice Thursday morning at a local NAIA school, Texas Wesleyan University. When we arrived at the college, just one other media member was on site. The four of us would be the only ones speaking with Head Coach Gregg Marshall that day. 

While we were standing there, speaking with the team’s sports information director, someone from Texas Wesleyan burst through the front doors into the gym’s entry way. 

“Did you hear the news?”

We hadn’t. We looked at him confused. We thought the news had come out the day before. That’s when he told us the AAC tournament had been canceled. The official email followed soon after.

Marshall wouldn’t be made available for comment — partially because he never showed up to the gym. The players began emerging from the weight room in shock. They couldn’t believe what was going on. They were all glued to their phones.

That’s when we jumped into work mode. Photo Editor Morgan Anderson started capturing the moment visually. Sports reporter Sean Marty recorded video of the team walking to the bus, heads down. I threw everything on the ground and started to write. It didn’t seem real until I saw senior center Jaime Echenique on the phone, tears streaming down his face as he walked past me.

After getting stories and a photo gallery up, we decided to go to the media hotel. When we walked into the lobby, WSU players were already packing up, ready to leave behind the disappointment. AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco held a press conference and I kept writing, right in the middle of the hotel lobby. While sitting there, a  Memphis-based multimedia journalist voiced what we were all thinking.

What do we do now?

It was a valid question. By that point, with all conferences canceling their tournaments, I knew what would come next. With the teams leaving and no one to talk to, there was only one thing left to do — prepare for all cancellations. 

When we got back to the hotel, we got the briefs ready for spring sports cancellations for both the AAC and NCAA. By the end of the night, they were published. The sporting community was completely halted.

With everything canceled, we thought our job for the weekend was done. We woke up the next morning, Friday, to drive back to Wichita. When we got right outside of Oklahoma City, the first domino fell. Tate Busse, a WSU walk-on, was leaving the team, according to Verbal Commits. Right after, Busse himself confirmed.

It was a surprise, and not something you expect to see the day after the season prematurely ended either. So while I was driving, I turned my portable WiFi on and Sean started writing. About 10 minutes after our story published, No. 2 would fall. Erik Stevenson was entering the transfer portal.

Two minutes later, Jamarius Burton and Noah Fernandes followed. DeAntoni Gordon was 10 minutes later. Within an hour, a third of WSU’s scholarship players were leaving — the day they were originally scheduled to play a game. And we reported that news from my 2013 Toyota Camry.

All three of us tried contacting the departing players. All five refused to comment.

Now that it’s settled in, and after time of reflection, this is why journalism matters — no matter if it’s three students in a student publication or a large media outlet. Without us there, the public wouldn’t have gotten an inside look from when the news broke. Without us there, that story wouldn’t have been told. No matter the circumstances — stress, lack of sleep, or other obstacles – we’ll be there.

And it’s a promise that we will always be there.