When the Rutgers men's basketball team went back into the locker room after the Big Ten Tournament was canceled on March 12, Athletics Director Pat Hobbs was right there with it. He had to witness the season end earlier than expected.
"It was sort of a surreal experience in the locker room," Hobbs said in a phone interview with The Daily Targum. "We felt pretty good about our chances of going deep into that tournament. We wanted that magic to continue."
The team had been warming up on the court, preparing to play Michigan in the second round of the conference tournament. It was gearing up to start a postseason in which it was predicted to make March Madness for the first time in 29 years. Just a few minutes before the scheduled tip-off, though, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren announced the competition had been canceled due to concerns about COVID-19.
"I think it was inevitable and a real shame, obviously, for our men's basketball program," Hobbs said. "To have gone forward with the tournament would have been the wrong thing to do. You can't really criticize the method of any of these things. The right decision was made, really heartbreaking for our kids."
Hobbs, who was monitoring both the men's and women's basketball teams as well as a wrestling team that were all expected to be in the NCAA Tournament, said he was focused on the health of the student-athletes.
"Our focus right now is this semester and making sure we tend to the needs of all the student-athletes," he said. "We want to be able to support our student-athletes where we can. We obviously want to support them emotionally as well."
In light of the cancellation, Hobbs was asked if he thought the seniors on the winter sports teams should be granted another year of eligibility to achieve their postseason dreams.
"There's certainly a lot of schools across Division 1 who had ended their seasons … so that's one of the challenges," Hobbs said. "You have some teams like ours that were looking forward to the postseason … But then you have other schools that their seasons are already over. So, I think it's challenging. I don't know how many of those athletes would look to return. Obviously, some of them have professional opportunities in sports, but they also have job opportunities."
While the fate of those seniors' careers is currently unknown, Hobbs said the future is still bright. He also said that not only do the spring sport seniors get an extra year of eligibility, but also that the fall season should still go as planned.
"We look forward to a fall sports season," Hobbs said. "We'll make sure we're in a position to go forward once we get the green light."
Hobbs also spoke about the football team, which will be led by head coach Greg Schiano. Hobbs brought Schiano back in December after his first stint with the program, when he led the Scarlet Knights to six bowl games between 2001-11.
"Coach Schiano (did) an incredible job just putting staff together, some of the recruiting that he's done, the planning that he's done, so that program is in great hands," Hobbs said.
He then shared his thoughts on the future of Rutgers sports.
"The best days for Rutgers athletics are ahead," he said.
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