The Final Four that Wasn't

by Julie Graber | on 2 Apr 2020

2-April

If it were a normal year, my husband and I would be packed and ready to head out today for New Orleans, the site of the 2020 Women's Final Four. But this is no ordinary year.

It would have been our 17th Women's Final Four - over the years, it has become our spring break trip. We've been to San Antonio (a favorite), Denver, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa, Cleveland, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, Cincinnati, and yes, we even stayed home one year when it was hosted in Columbus. 

We rarely go with a team in the competition; usually we're hoping for good games. The last couple of years have not disappointed: we watched Mississippi State knock off proverbial favorite UConn on a last-second jumper by 5'4" Morgan William in the semi-final game in 2017, and two years ago, we saw Arike Ogunbowale scored the winning bucket in not just one but two games over the Finals weekend, sealing a national championship for Notre Dame over UConn and Mississippi State. 

When we first started attending the tournament, the Pat Summitt-led Lady Vols were usually in the mix (which meant a full weekend of "Rocky Top") as well as the Stanford Cardinal (whose mascot is a tree). UConn was just starting to establish itself as a national powerhouse as was Notre Dame and Baylor. 

We've gotten to be pretty experienced Final Four-ers: we know where to go to buy shirts before the first night of competition (always absolute chaos) and how to scope out the team hotels. The first night's dinner is always Mexican (and if it's good, we'll probably go back for another lunch or dinner). We pick a hotel within walking distance of the arena except for when we go to Indianapolis where we stay at a state park. Last year we discovered the new option of a short-term apartment rental, with the added benefit of a full kitchen (and amazingly, lower prices). 

We love it when it's somewhere warm and provides a break from cold and grey Ohio, which interestingly included Denver - at least for the first day (it was 80 degrees the day we arrived, and snowed for the next three days we were there; fortunately we packed for cold). We've been pretty lucky with our travel except the year they held our plane on the ground while the Air Force One took off with the Vice President who had attended the final (Biden I think); by the time we took off, we had missed a connection and spent an extra overnight out of town (but for the life of me I can't remember where).

Spring is the one time of the year that we watch TV sports together - catching the early rounds and the Sweet Sixteen. Of course, we've always had to clarify that we were following the Women's Final Four. We certainly have missed it this spring, but mostly I feel sorry for the athletes who lost out on their chance to play in the tournament and for a national championship. 

It will be interesting to see how long it takes sports to get back to "normal" (if there is such a thing) after this year, scary to ponder the possibility that there will be long-term impacts in what seemed so straight-forward in the past. Like everything else, we'll just have to wait and see. 

Hopefully this time next year, we'll be packing our bags.