In normal times, sports fans would be hanging on the edge of their seats right now as March Madness delivered its usual buzzer-beaters and upsets or planning a trip to The Plains to catch a first glimpse of next season's Auburn football team at the A-Day game.
But these are not normal times, as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, has brought sports and life in general to a standstill.
The outbreak has caused all sports to grind to a halt. No March Madness. No spring football practice and A-Day. No spring sports.
Student-athletes have shifted from the court or practice field to home, finishing coursework online as Auburn University has effectively closed its campus and shifted to remote learning for the rest of the semester.
Football players would normally be working hard on the field right now during spring practice.
"We’re going through unprecedented times right now. It seems like everything is changing daily," said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. "The number one goal is the safety and well-being of our players, the safety and well-being of our coaches and families. We’ve been in constant contact with our players this week making sure that they’re safe, making sure they are set up remotely to start their classes and everything that goes with that. Currently all of our players are healthy.
"We put football on the backburner and just making sure they are safe and protected."
Coaches are keeping in frequent contact with all players, while still trying to keep up with recruiting through technology.
"Each coach has, from home, their own laptop, can watch any video, there’s great communication," said Malzahn. "We have great leadership. Our coordinators, coach Travis Williams, our recruiting coordinator, they’re doing a great job of making sure we don’t get behind working from home in the communication that they have. Right now, we’ve got the ability to communicate with recruits, and I’m sure other staffs are doing that throughout the country, because most of the kids aren’t in school now anyway."
Malzahn said coaches are also prepared to use technology to communicate with players about future installations of the offense and defense. Some changes to the offense were expected this spring after former Arkansas head coach Chad Morris was hired as offensive coordinator.
"When it is time to, as far as the football goes and the installs and all that, we’re definitely prepared to do that online, away from the place," he said. "But like I said, this week, until it’s the proper time, this is going to be focused on the health and safety of our players."
The Auburn football staff plans to discuss how to manage workouts for players during the outbreak when it becomes appropriate.
"Right now, with the social distancing and everything, weight rooms aren’t where you’re supposed to be," said Malzahn. "So each week, we will come up with different plans that are appropriate at the appropriate times.
"The social distancing right now is very important to keep everyone healthy, so when the appropriate time comes, we’ll get appropriate strategy as far as working out and everything right now. But we’re encouraging our players to use social distancing and not being around other people."
While football players saw their spring practice fall into limbo, those on the basketball team saw their season and, in the case of seniors, their collegiate careers come to a immediate stop when the SEC Tournament was halted and March Madness canceled.
"These kids really cared, they grinded, they won four overtime games, or five — four or five overtime games — and I’m proud of them for the way they competed and the way they grinded, especially with a roster that was really a lot of seniors that had played supporting cast roles the year before and played dominant roles," said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. "We certainly were in position to be competitive in postseason play again, and I could tell you that our seniors were extremely disappointed, but they got it in perspective because as you look around and you see people that are out of work, businesses that are failing, having really serious health issues — particularly in urban areas — and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, none of our guys are complaining."
Auburn coaches are still working on putting the finishing touches on the 2020 recruiting class, with five-star prospects Jalen Green and Greg Brown expected to announce their commitments in the coming weeks.
"We have a tremendous opportunity for some impact players. We're recruiting some impact players but we just have to do it over the phone, through text and we feel like we're in a great position, we've just got to see how it plays out," said Pearl. "Everybody is in the same boat. I don’t think anybody is at all concerned about getting a competitive advantage or disadvantage in recruiting. We’re limited to simply the ability we have to make contact. There is nothing on campus, nothing in person, nothing off campus. It changes the way we try to finish up this year’s class."
Auburn coaches are also planning on star forward Isaac Okoro not returning for his sophomore year. Okoro is pegged as a top-10 lottery pick in the NBA Draft by many experts. Okoro plans to test the waters.
"If then the information comes back and it confirms the information we have right now, that he is going to indeed be a lottery pick then he needs to stay in the draft," said Pearl.
With players not on campus. Auburn coaches have shifted some of their time to community service, expanding a program to pack meals for students in the Auburn community.
"We've expanded that effort for some additional resources, provided by the Hudson Family, the Bruce Pearl Family Foundation, as well as Jason Dufner and his foundation, with support from Church of the Highlands and the Dream Center," Pearl said. "And several of my student athletes who are in town have also jumped in and helped. There's a little bit of some community service going on with the idle time."