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  • David Cunningham

How COVID-19 Has Impacted 3304 Sports

Updated: May 21, 2020

When the sports world seemingly fell apart in 24 hours between Wednesday, March 11 and Thursday, March 12, no one knew what was coming next.

It’s now May 20. Various summer baseball leagues, along with jobs, have been canceled or postponed, while professional sports leagues and conferences across the NCAA are deep in discussion on how and when to bring sports back.

It’s a strange time. More content than before is needed, though there are no live sports to produce headlines. Journalists are being furloughed left and right while there are plenty of stories to be written.

3304 Sports has a plan. To better understand it, I’ve taken a deep dive into our members’ reactions to the collapse of the sports world, how it’s impacted their summer opportunities and aspirations and how they’re planning to adapt their coverage.

A Timeline from when the Sports World Stopped Spinning

Do you remember where you were when sports were shut down? As someone who was in the epicenter of it all, it’s hard for me to forget.

There were six of us in Greensboro when the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament was shut down on Thursday, March 12.

Everything started the day before, though.

Throughout Wednesday afternoon, different universities in the ACC and across the country released statements on how their school would adjust classes due to the coronavirus.

Virginia Tech’s announcement came out at 5:05 p.m., which happened to be in the middle of the two ACC Tournament sessions.

Back in Blacksburg, the Virginia Tech baseball team was an hour into their game against George Mason when the news that the school would extend spring break a week came through.

Shaakir Janmohammad, an engineer for HokieVision and the ACC Network, was working the pass-thru in the South End Zone of Lane Stadium when news started to swirl.

“When we went into work that day, there were rumors that Tech was going to make an announcement around 4 o’clock-ish,” Janmohammad said. “It was very surreal because we all knew something was going to happen, but we didn’t know what.”

Bailey Angle, a current broadcaster and an alumnus of Tech’s Department of Communication, was by himself on the call when his production team alerted him of Tech’s statement.

“We were also getting the news that the NCAA Tournament was going to be played in front of no fans, so that was the big news flash,” Angle said. “I did say something about extending spring break, but as far as athletics goes, I was told not to say anything. … I was just trying to maneuver myself through that whole situation while I was by myself on the air.”

Despite the announcement, Janmohammad said the thought of no sports had yet to cross the minds of those in the control room.

“We were all still in this place where we thought sports were going to happen,” Janmohammad said. “It was a really surreal moment to announce that on air and watch everything unfold in front of us later.”

Almost three hours later, at 7:58 p.m., the ACC released a statement saying they would not allow fans for the remainder of the tournament, which was supposed to last four more days. Eleven minutes later, at 8:09 p.m., the second half of Notre Dame-Boston College started in the Greensboro Coliseum.

At 8:10 p.m. ET, one minute later, is when news started to pick up.

Royce Young, an NBA writer for ESPN, was covering the Jazz – Thunder game in Oklahoma City and tweeted this:

Sitting in the media section behind Notre Dame’s bench, I had checked Twitter when Young’s tweet came across my computer screen. I knew it was odd, so I sat there and waited for his next update.

I glanced across the court to see Shelton Moss and Kevin DiDomenico broadcasting the game. I found my other colleagues, Jake Lyman and Evan Hughes, sitting with Bill Roth next to the overflow media. In front of me on the baseline was our photographer, Liam Sment.

As I scanned the arena, I noticed that everyone was focused on the game still. I thought I might have been the only person in the coliseum to see the tweet.

Four minutes later, Young tweeted that the teams were heading back to the locker rooms. Now I was sure something was up.

Forty-five minutes passed and the Notre Dame – Boston College game finished around 9 p.m. Players for North Carolina and Syracuse took the floor for warmups.

In Oklahoma City, both teams were still in their locker room and Young was doing standups on ESPN.

Elsewhere, the Mavericks were hosting the Nuggets in the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Andrew Allegretta, the Voice of the Tulane Green Wave and former director of broadcasting and digital media at Virginia Tech, was in attendance in Dallas with a graduate assistant from Tulane’s men’s basketball team. The Green Wave was scheduled to play UConn at 3 p.m. CT in Fort Worth in the AAC Basketball Tournament on Thursday.

Andy Loce, who broadcasted the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament for 3304 Sports just days prior, was also in the American Airlines Center.

At 9:27 p.m. ET, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Four minutes later, at 9:31 p.m. ET, even bigger news:

Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski simultaneously reported that the NBA suspended its season due to Gobert testing positive for the coronavirus.

Back in Dallas, Allegretta and Loce watched as the news broke around the arena. Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban received the news on his phone during a timeout in the third quarter and quickly alerted the team’s staff and the referees.

“What I will always remember about that night was how much time I spent watching Cuban and not the actual basketball game,” Allegretta said. “Once the season was suspended, you could see Cuban darting all over the place. … We spent a huge chunk of that second half just watching Cuban because we expected them to stop the game in the middle of it.”

“I got a notification on my phone that the NBA season has been suspended,” Loce said. “I looked up was like, ‘what do you mean it’s suspended? It’s happening right now, the season’s still going on.’ The players were so into their game that they didn’t know their season was suspended. Everyone in the stands knew what was going on but the people on the court had no idea.”

In Greensboro, news spread quickly around the coliseum. UNC and ‘Cuse had just tipped at 9:30, but more people were paying attention to their phones than what was happening on the court.

“I remember seeing that SportsCenter tweet and I just couldn’t believe it,” Hughes said. “As I’m sitting there watching that Syracuse – North Carolina game, I kept asking myself, ‘is this the last sporting event that I’m going to be watching in person for a long time?’ I kept trying to soak it in but I wasn’t able to enjoy it at all because it was one domino falling after another that entire night.”

The Mavs finished the game with Denver, while the ACC Tournament’s fourth game of the day played out.

Though Moss and DiDomenico were in the middle of broadcasting a game, they were still keeping up with everything going on around them.

“It was just this weird feeling because you felt like, ‘we came here to do the ACC Tournament’ and it almost felt like this is sort of the end of the road,” Moss said. “It was like, ‘this is the last opportunity you really have to get some experience calling games,’ so I decided to make the most of it.”

“Our minds were definitely not all the way in it,” DiDomenico said. “I think the fans started to realize that they shouldn’t be here.”

Despite the NBA’s announcement, play continued in the Greensboro Coliseum. Syracuse ended up rocking the Heels in front of a pro-Carolina crowd, winning 81-53 and handing Carolina their worst-ever defeat in an ACC Tournament game.

Both Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams answered the media’s questions postgame, though it was a quiet auditorium.

Both coaches were asked questions about playing college basketball moving forward, but neither had answers. Williams said he didn’t want to evaluate what should or shouldn’t be done, while Boeheim said he hoped his kids would get the chance to play.

The magnitude of the pandemic had not hit yet.

As we drove back to the hotel, questions swirled around our group – everything from “do we think there will be games tomorrow” and “what’s going to happen to sports?” to “are we in jeopardy by being here?”

“I can remember going to bed feeling like a kid in high school wondering, ‘should I do my homework or not?’ because you don’t know what’s going to happen overnight with the snow,” Hughes said. “The waking up and looking outside the window was instead refreshing Twitter.”

“I remember waking up seeing that there were going to be games that day,” Lyman said. “I think all of us were pretty surprised by that. I think we all woke up expecting to see that text from someone in ACC media saying, ‘the tournament is canceled, no more ACC basketball this year.’”

Shelton Moss and I were scheduled to broadcast the first game of the day between No. 1 Florida State and No. 8 Clemson on Thursday morning. We were prepared to call the third day of the tournament, but we didn’t think we’d have to prep for sports to collapse around us.

We arrived at Greensboro Coliseum around 10:45 a.m., just under two hours until tip at 12:30 p.m.

“I remember I went to the lunchroom to have a late breakfast with my friend Matt Johnson,” Moss said. “We were sitting at a table with a couple of nice ladies and they were mentioning how other conferences were canceling their tournaments, so that was the topic of conversation at the lunch table. We were sort of expecting that the ACC would be the next domino to fall.”

While Shelton ate, I ran to the auditorium to catch the last five minutes of ACC Commissioner John Swofford’s press conference, during which he said the tournament games were still scheduled to be played.

I went back out to the floor and Moss and I tested our broadcast equipment and recorded our standup. After filming our preview for the morning session, Moss and I sat back and watched the two teams warm up.

I walked over and chatted with media members on the baseline, who were all wondering the same thing: ‘there’s no way we’re actually going to play, right?’

The rest of our 3304 group – Hughes, DiDomenico, Lyman, Sment and Roth – left the hotel around 11:45 a.m. and arrived at the arena around 11:55.

At 11:47 a.m., the first conference tournament domino fell as the American Athletic Conference canceled their tournament. In Fort Worth, Allegretta was surprised that the announcement didn’t come sooner.

“The fact that I woke up at 8:00 a.m. and it wasn’t canceled surprised me,” Allegretta said. “The fact that it got to 9:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. You were just waiting for that domino to fall. … Nothing about that moment felt like it was going to end with us going to the gym and playing a game.”

After the AAC canceled, other conferences followed suit, all while the group was in the car heading over to the coliseum.

“I remember during the ten minutes from the hotel to the arena, the AAC, the SEC, the Big Ten and the Big 12 all canceled their tournaments,” Lyman said. “I remember everyone on Twitter was asking, ‘what is the ACC doing?’”

Still standing on the baseline talking to other colleagues, I saw a strange sight – just minutes after conference tournaments were canceled left and right, Florida State and Clemson ran out onto the floor to warmup. That was at 11:55 a.m., around the same time the group arrived at the arena.

“I got out of the car with Bill [Roth] and as soon as we got inside, I told Bill, ‘I’m gone,’” Sment said. “As soon as everything started happening, my mind snapped into work mode. The rest of the time wasn’t even a question of ‘do I take a second to take this in?’ I didn’t. I was just running and putting myself in places to get pictures.”

Both teams went back into their locker rooms at 12:04 p.m. with tipoff less than thirty minutes away.

At 12:15 p.m., the Atlantic Coast Conference sent out their statement:

Media members relaxed. Finally, they didn’t have to wait any longer. The tournament was canceled. End of story, right?

Cue a Lee Corso “not so fast, my friend.”

“For NCAA Tournament automatic qualification purposes, Florida State will represent the league as the ACC Champion.”

It seemed like that part was skipped over, but it was true, nonetheless.

ESPN’s Allison Williams tweeted that Swofford was going to present Florida State with the ACC Championship trophy, so media gathered at midcourt.

Sment, still in work mode, had a clever idea.

“I saw everyone gathering behind him [Swofford] and the Florida State players, so I jumped into the stands so I could get a face-on view of him,” Sment said. “It’s one of the most intense pictures I’ve taken and it has such a great story. Swofford’s with the entire Florida State team in the moment that is supposed to be their main photo-op for them winning the ACC trophy and not a single Florida State player is smiling.”

ACC Commissioner John Swofford presents the trophy to FSU coach Leonard Hamliton and his team. (Liam Sment)

Two minutes after the ACC released their statement (12:17 p.m.), the Pac-12 announced their tournament was canceled. That left just the Big East, who made their decision at halftime of the Creighton – St. John’s game. That was the final domino to fall in terms of major conference tournaments.

It was a strange afternoon. Not knowing what to make of it all, our group went out to lunch before packing up our stuff to head back to Blacksburg.

As Moss and I, the last two in our group to leave the hotel, walked out of our room and out to my car, the tweet came in.

“NCAA cancels remaining winter and spring championships.”

“When all spring sports were canceled, that was the ‘wow’ moment,” Lyman said. “It finally hit you that this could be a much larger thing than everyone else thinks it’s going to be.”

In a blink of an eye, sports were no more.

The Lost Opportunities

For most folks in the industry, a time with no sports has meant a lot of sitting around and waiting.

With no sports this spring and potentially no sports this summer, many students in 3304 Sports have missed out on valuable experiences.

“I was going to travel to Marshall the next week and call Tech baseball with Kevin [DiDomenico],” Lyman said. “If the women’s basketball team was close, I was also thinking about traveling and calling that for 3304. … There were probably 30 to 40 games in those last eight weeks of the semester that no one ever got to call, and no one ever got to play. That was a tough reality.”

Lyman, the play-by-play broadcaster for the Forest City Owls in the Coastal Plain League, is crossing his fingers for a summer league baseball season. The CPL’s expected start date is currently July 1.

“At the very least, we’re cutting ten games off the schedule and losing a month of experience there,” Lyman said. “There’s also a pretty good chance we don’t get to call any games. In a field like this that’s so experienced based, you have to get experience in college, and the summer is the best time to do that for a broadcaster.”

Hughes, the play-by-play voice for the St. Cloud Rox in the Northwoods League, hopes he’ll be able to go back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes for his third straight year. Like Lyman, he also had gigs planned for the coming weeks and months after the tournament, all that were wiped away.

“I had a lot of play-by-play reps lined up through baseball, softball and lacrosse,” Hughes said. “Two days before traveling to Greensboro, I was asked by Bryant Johnson if I’d be available to fly with Tech baseball to Boston College for an ACC series. I had a lot of great reps lined up that I didn’t get to do, and my summer ball team’s season is kind of up in the air at this point.”

Lyman and Hughes are just two of the many students that missed out on broadcasting opportunities. Loce, the voice for the Martinsville Mustangs in CPL, and DiDomenico, the voice of the Pulaski Yankees in the Appalachian League, are in the same position.

Those in the forefront were not the only ones impacted, though. No broadcasts means no opportunities for those behind the scenes as well, like Janmohammad, who was hoping to gain valuable experience this semester.

“I was moving more towards the role of Chief Engineering and figuring out all of the software and processes that go on that side,” Janmohammad said. “This was going to be a pretty big semester for me in terms of what goes into that role and really trying to find my place. Even if we can come back in the fall, I’ll be behind where I want to be.”

No sports have meant less opportunities to create content for Sment, who is set to graduate in the fall. He says the time has helped him find new and creative ways to tell stories.

“I’ve had to entirely change the way I do things and the way I’m approaching what I’m doing now in my job,” Sment said. “It’s been a lot of change for me and doing a lot of self-reflection that, in a way, there have been some silver linings that I’ve had the ability to take a step back and find new ways to tell the stories that need to be told.”

While those that aspire to be broadcasters are missing out on opportunities, there are others in the sports media field that are still working.

In his apartment in Blacksburg, Will Copeland spends a few hours per day making graphics for his summer job with Lionsbridge FC. A digital media intern for the USL League 2 club out of Newport News, Copeland’s one of a few summer interns that still has a job to do.

“The ticket office interns and the event planning interns are out of luck, but I’m working three to four hours a day making graphics,” Copeland said. “What we’re relaying on social media is all we really have to do, so I feel like I’m gaining a lot of valuable experience that I might not have gotten without this.”

At the moment, Copeland said Lionsbridge hopes to be back on the pitch in early July, assuming conditions are safe. He’s using this opportunity to get on a schedule and work the kinks out before the first scrimmage takes place.

“Once the scrimmages get going, you have to work on such a tight schedule,” Copeland said. “When your season is only going to be four weeks and ten games, there’s so little time to adapt to different things that could go wrong, so you have a lot less time to make mistakes.”

Like everyone else, he hopes sports can return to the field soon.

A Plan to Adapt

Sports around the world have gradually restarted.

The Bundesliga resumed play this past Saturday, while the Korean Baseball Organization has entertained sports fans at 5:30 a.m. the last two weeks. ESPN gifted sports fans The Last Dance and sparked numerous debates, and NASCAR held an actual race in Darlington this past Sunday that drew in fans just looking to watch a live sporting event.

Though it does not provide the same level of comfort as it might usually, fans are soaking it all in.

“Anyone that loves sports is clinging for whatever they can right now,” Copeland said. “That’s why re-airs of old matches and games are so successful right now – you just want to grab on to anything.”

With that in mind, 3304 Sports has a plan to give sports fans some relief.

Starting on Monday, May 25, the organization will be pushing out anywhere from ten to fifteen pieces of content a week.

The content plan will include everything from articles and podcasts to interviews and a top ten countdown of the best games the organization covered over the past two semesters.

Hughes and I recorded a podcast on Tuesday about The Last Dance and Michael Jordan. Lyman interviewed Angle for an inside look into his journey as a broadcaster. Emily Gray, a midfielder on Tech’s women’s soccer team, has a feature on the Bundesliga that will arrive on Sunday, May 24.

That’s just the beginning, though. The countdown of 3304’s top ten games, which one might say is the key chunk of the content plan, will include a sit-down with the broadcasters of that particular game, Sment’s photos from that event, highlights from the full broadcast and the postgame article.

It’s given those in the organization something to look forward to in these stressful times with no sports, but it also has a chance to increase 3304 Sports’ font size on the student media map across the country.

“I think it’s going to set us apart in a big way because I believe we are the only student group in the country who is going to be putting out this much content over the summer,” Hughes said.

Allegretta, observing from afar from his house just outside New Orleans, echoed Hughes’ statement.

“3304 has clearly diversified its content over the past couple of months,” Allegretta said. “Where some media groups might only be doing play-by-play for games that are happening, which kind of boxes you into a corner, 3304 has allowed our students to explore every avenue. Because of that and because of our current situation, we can pump out a lot more content and we can give students a lot more opportunities during an unusual and unique time.”

When many student media organizations across the country have relaxed their coverage and have taken a break, 3304 Sports is hitting the ground running. In a strange time like this, Sment said it’s a must.

“If we want to consider ourselves journalists and broadcasters and media of the future, we have to understand that the times of danger and the times of distress are when we have to be at our best and we as journalists have to keep working,” Sment said. “People turn to sports for their livelihood, for their mental health, for the happiness at the end of their day when they get home from work. If we can give that to somebody in one way or another, I’m going to do everything I can to do that.”

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