While March Madness draws in millions of viewers every spring, the reality for most of college basketball is probably closer to what happens at small programs like Newbury College: no sold-out arenas, no phenoms who are household names at 18, no coaches whose salaries put school presidents to shame. There’s simply two hoops, a basketball, and dreams of playing the college game.

But when the Brookline school Newbury College announced in December that it will close at the end of this semester, those dreams withered. And if trends in higher education continue, they may die for other student athletes as well.

Newbury's Director of Athletics Jonathan Harper is counting down the days. He has a large wall calendar hanging to the right of his desk where he checks off each day as it gets closer to May 31 — the final day of operations at Newbury.

“There are only so many spots on teams. And as long as schools continue to end business operations and cease to exist, obviously there’s less opportunities out there for student-athletes to be able play," he said. "And I think that’s really too bad. And in Division III, where we stress opportunities for student athletes, that does become a true problem when colleges are closing.”

When word got out that Newbury would become the latest in a growing line of small, private schools in New England to either close or merge, members of the men's basketball team were shocked and full of questions.

"Where am I gonna go?" they asked, and "How am I gonna get there?"

That's what Head Coach Rich Fazzi heard from his players when Newbury announced its imminent closure.

Now, Fazzi, who would normally be working to recruit new players to come in, is doing his best to help his current players get out.

“And I think that gave them a little relief, knowing that, you know, they’re not doing this on their own," Fazzi said. "You know, I’ve talked to so many coaches, from Maine to someone from D.C. called me today, someone from West Virginia, someone from California. ... Pretty much they came [to Newbury College] because I recruited them to come here. So I think it’s my job to get them to the place that they seem the best fit.”

The player who may be generating the most buzz is Tim Deng, a 6-7 rising junior forward from Portland, Maine, who can stretch the floor with his shooting. He averaged just over 12 points and eight rebounds a game in his second season with the Newbury Nighthawks.

Deng was a bit of a late bloomer on the court and only really started playing during his junior year of high school. Even then, he didn’t get many minutes, but he felt like he should be playing at a higher level.

He tried out two different colleges before finding his place at Newbury.

"It was just a really good chance to actually see me play, and I grew a lot. I learned a lot from my two years here," Deng said. "And now I’m actually getting recruited by a lot of coaches. It really gave me a good base so now I can keep going.”

And that's the point.

Newbury and schools like it give players like Deng, who wasn’t recruited at all, chances they might not get elsewhere. But over the past year, the list of small, Division III schools that have either closed or merged has gotten longer and longer: Daniel Webster, Mount Ida, Wheelock. And at the beginning of the month, Southern Vermont College, which is in the New England Collegiate Conference with Newbury, announced it too will be closing at the end of the semester.

On Senior Day back in February, the game against Worcester's Becker College didn’t go Newbury’s way. The Nighthawks never really found their groove and ended up losing the final home game in school history, 115-92.

But after the lopsided defeat, something turned in the Nighthawks. They won their first-round NECC tournament game, and then the next. They made it all the way to the conference championship, losing to Mitchell College in New London, Conn.

A win in the overtime contest could have bought them a ticket to the Division III national tournament.

Afterwards, in the locker room, it dawned on senior shooting guard Pierce Weatherspoon and his teammates that this was it for Nighthawk basketball.

“Coming around Oct. 15, there’s no tryouts or practice that first day," Weatherspoon said. "Hell week, some call it. So there’s none of that. There’s nothing guaranteed, it’s kind of just what you get, what you earn.”

Phil Weatherspoon, Pierce’s dad, said not everyone can go to a major school like Duke or UConn. That's where programs like Newbury come in.

“It’s actually, it’s almost probably more needed than some of the other places because that guy that goes to these places, that’s his only shot, usually, in most cases. So they really need that,” he said.

The world of sports is filled with platitudes you can hear on almost any broadcast during March Madness: "Defense wins championships." "One play at a time." "Ball don’t lie."

And, of course, "There’s always next year."

But as more schools and their athletic programs close, sometimes, there will be no next year.