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Should the CIAC return $29,300 in state tournament entry fees?

The "better angels of our nature," Abraham Lincoln's familiar words from his inaugural address, alluded to our best guides to sensible and honorable conduct.

We've learned in recent days and weeks that the economic tentacles of the coronavirus have left our better angels indisposed.

Numerous stories have been written, for example, about travel agencies keeping money earmarked for school trips that have been canceled because of the virus. It's impossible to vet every example, of course. But it prompts the following question: Just because your travel agency's fine print may say "non-refundable," does such business practice coincide with "the better angels of our nature" amid a health crisis?

In other words: Doesn't doing the right thing count anymore?

Undoubtedly, such a sentiment reeks of idealism. I always recall the words of late sports columnist Bill Conlin: "money's money and there can only be one Mother Teresa." Understood. It's just that the better angels of my nature couldn't justify keeping a family's money if extraordinary circumstances intervened.

This is all backdrop for today's query about whether the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state's governing body of high school sports, will keep the $29,300 it has collected in basketball state tournament entry fees. The CIAC, citing concerns over the coronavirus, canceled the girls' and boys' tournaments earlier this week.

Should the CIAC keep money for something that never happened?

Some bookkeeping: A total of 293 teams (160 girls, 133 boys) qualified for the state tournament. The CIAC charges each program $100 to enter. Three different athletic directors said Thursday that no such fine print exists about state tournament entry fees being non-refundable. Other ADs said they hadn't paid the fee yet anyway. So there is not the full $29,300 to be considered.

This is more about principle. I e-mailed Joel Cookson, the CIAC's Director of Media and Sports Information, on Wednesday to ask whether refunds were coming to the individual programs. Cookson wrote back, "we are working through making those decisions now."

There's ample gray area here. The girls' tournament had concluded the quarterfinal round in some divisions by Monday night. Should the CIAC keep that money if three rounds had been played already? Should it return a portion?

Yet the Div. II and IV boys' brackets never began. That's 58 schools who paid for something that never happened. If we start anywhere, it ought to be here. Assuming the schools in question paid their entry fees, among which are Waterford, Fitch, Griswold, Killingly and Lyman Memorial, shouldn't their entry fees be returned in full?

The same argument may apply to schools which earned first-round byes and never got a chance to play in brackets that already began: NFA, Old Lyme and Montville among them.

If such fees aren't returned, would a more cynical fellow call that stealing or a cautionary tale of buyer beware?

The better angels of our nature ought to suggest the money be returned. Or perhaps kept for future entry fees. But then, the same better angels also applied to some of these travel agencies who used a health scare to pad their bottom lines by bamboozling vulnerable families.

They better pray they didn't prey on a family or two who can withstand steep attorney fees. If ever a situation called for litigation, it's the corporate monolith victimizing The Little Guy. If nothing else, we ought to be taking names of the offending agencies and telling all our friends never to do business with them again.

Maybe you subscribe to the notion of Buyer Beware. Cynical, but perhaps practical. In most cases, I'd agree. But the circumstances here are extraordinary. That ought to count for something.

I hope the CIAC finds its better angels and gives all or some of the money back to its member schools. Whether we agree with the CIAC's overall decision and its method of conveying the information is irrelevant. The state basketball tournaments never really happened. Our schools have already paid for that in other ways. Should they have to pay monetarily, too?

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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