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Port: Why is North Dakota holding basketball tournaments amid the coronavirus scare?

No sport is worth putting people at risk.

Fargo Davies’ Nate Hensel breaks away from Mandan’s Dontae Maloney for two during their N.D. Class A state boys basketball tournament quarterfinal game Thursday, March 12, at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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MINOT, N.D. — I knew things were serious with the coronavirus situation when the NCAA announced they were canceling their wildly popular March basketball tournament .

I mean, it's the NCAA.

Perhaps one of the most venal and exploitive organizations in America today.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get them to do the right thing? Especially when it comes at the expense of the revenues driven by what is their marquee event?

Yet while the NCAA seems to get it -- while the NBA and Major League Baseball and the hockey leagues, etc., etc., are all canceling games and events -- the North Dakota High School Activities Association is carrying on with business as usual.


This weekend, Fargo is hosting a Class A tournament for boys and girls basketball. Planned for later this month is a Class B boys basketball tournament in Bismarck.

How is this defensible?

The North Dakota Democratic Party has canceled its statewide convention. The North Dakota Republican Party will have a meeting of its state committee next week at which party leaders will decide on their convention.

These are election-year events by which we select the people who govern our country runs, and they're being canceled.

Our college campuses are canceling classes or moving them to remote education platforms.

Presidential candidates are canceling campaign events.

Yet basketball is more important than these things?

North Dakotans, like most Americans, are crazy about sports. That gives institutions like the NDHSAA a lot of power, and from that power comes a lot of arrogance.


I've heard state policymakers, who have gone up against the NDHSAA on issues related to education, describe them as a "mini-NCAA."

It was not meant to be a flattering comparison.

Defenders of the NDHSAA decision to carry on will tell us that high school kids are young, and a low risk for COVID-19. That's true, but what about the coaches? And the referees? And the parents and grandparents and siblings and all the other people those kids might interact with, either at the tournament or away from it?

A 17-year-old who contracts COVID-19 might be fine, but what about his mom?

Defenders will talk about the need not to panic, and while that's true to a point, the virus isn't likely to be cowed by our defiance.

Defenders will say that North Dakota hasn't seen much of the virus to date. As I write this, we have just one confirmed case in Ward County. But both Minnesota and South Dakota have multiple confirmed cases and deaths, and neither state is that far from Fargo.

Disease cares very little for political boundaries.

Do you know how we undermine North Dakota's resistance to the spread of the virus so far?


We carry on as if nothing is happening.

Defenders will say the NDHSAA has taken steps to reduce attendance, and thus risk, but you know what would reduce risk even further?

Not playing the games at all.

The NDHSAA says they're following guidance from the state and health experts, but are they? One consistent bit of advice our political leaders and health experts have been giving everyone is that they should avoid big crowds. Governor Doug Burgum, and North Dakota Director of Health Kirby Kruger, have both given that specific advice in multiple public statements and news releases.

Yet Burgum and Kruger seem unwilling to urge the NDHSAA to follow it.

Probably because of the aforementioned clout the NDHSAA has thanks to sports-mad citizens, not to mention parents and players who would be disappointed to have the tournaments canceled.

At some point, for the sake of all of us, the grownups have to step in.

The NDHSAA's decision to carry on with these events is inexcusable.

No sport is worth putting people at risk.

Update: At 3 p.m. Friday, the NDHSAA suspended of all its remaining winter postseason tournaments, fine arts contests, spring sports and activities.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

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Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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