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Virtual victories made in college sports during COVID-19

Photo courtesy of ESPN

Virtual tournaments used to crown college sports championships

At the beginning of March 2020, there was still some hope for college athletes and fans across the country. Many of the colleges and universities announcing their seasons had only been postponed; there was still the belief in a return to competition. That hope didn’t last long as the decision was announced on March 12th by NCAA president Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors to cancel the remainder of all winter and spring sports. This decision effectively pulled the plug on the men’s and women’s college lacrosse tournaments that take place during May and the March Madness college basketball tournament, which according to Forbes Magazine in 2019 drew up to 100 million viewers across the 67 games.

Not long after the decision to cancel spring and winter college playoffs had set in, the desire and need to crown a national champion provided a solution. Numerous accounts across social media sites began putting together their own virtual March Madness tournaments. Some accounts used video game platforms to simulate the match ups, others used algorithms.

One of the accounts on Twitter  ‘College Hoops 24/7,’ which has just over 4,000 followers, took the projected bracket for March Madness developed by ESPN and applied the use of an advanced algorithm to determine statistics and scoring for each team and player. The results were calculated, and the winner moved on to the next round. All 67 games were simulated in 3 days and by end of it all, the algorithm determined the #4 seed University of Louisville took on and defeated the #1 seed University of Kansas, 74-69 in the championship game. As the virtual victory made its way around social media Louisville students and athletes took to celebrating. One member of the basketball team Malik Williams tweeting out “Do we get a (championship) ring?” Even though the team and players have only been crowned this year’s champion virtually, to these athletes, virtual or not, a win is a win.

The use of algorithms in determining a champion is one way virtual tournaments are being held. Organizations such as USLacrosse and the NCAA are using a different method to calculate the champions for men’s and women’s college lacrosse. By posting the games as polls on Twitter and allowing for fans to vote for the team they think would win, this allows the fans to interact and be more involved with the results. The final outcome however is decided from 50 percent fan votes and 50 percent votes from experts at USLacrosse.

The CU Denver men’s lacrosse team also took part in a virtual tournament hosted on Twitter for fans to vote. In the first round the CU Denver Lynx were up against University of Northern Arizona. The Lynx racked up most of the votes and moved on to the next round. The second round saw the Lynx face off against University of St. Johns. This time the votes didn’t side with the Lynx and they were eliminated. CU Denver ended the season with a record of 4-0 in games played in person and are already looking forward to next season.

Although the tournaments can’t show exactly what would happen if two teams matched up in reality, it can provide a little break for college athletes and fan’s lives without in-person sports.

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