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Texas A&M Basketball

SEC, Texas A&M making tough decisions amid rapidly-changing coronavirus news

March 12, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Thursday afternoon, Texas A&M Athletic Director Ross Bjork discussed the ongoing decisions being made in response to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, including the Southeastern Conference’s decision to cancel its men’s postseason basketball tournament. 

Earlier in the day, the SEC announced it was suspending the regular season and championships in all sports until March 30. Not long after Bjork spoke, the NCAA revealed it was canceling all remaining winter and spring championships.

Speaking in a small, hastily-called press conference in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel, Bjork detailed the timeline of events that led to the SEC’s decision to halt tournament play after the first round.

Though concerns of spreading the coronavirus had led to cancelations and postponements in various sports throughout the world, the Southeastern Conference opened play on Wednesday, fully intending to complete the five-day tournament.

However, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and conference Athletic Directors gathered for a meeting at 9:30 Wednesday morning to discuss various scenarios involving how the tournament might be affected by the virus.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA
The Arkansas-Vanderbilt contest last night ended up being the final SEC basketball game of the 2019-20 season.

Initially, they opted to continue the opening round on Wednesday night, with Georgia facing Ole Miss and Arkansas facing Vanderbilt at Bridgestone Arena.

“Literally, like every minute something is popping around the world, around the country, different statements, reports to Congress, the WHO (World Health Organization) about the pandemic,” Bjork noted. “This is all happening in real-time.”

As more information became available, the decision was made Wednesday evening to continue the tournament on Thursday through Sunday, but without spectators.

At 9:13 p.m., a message was flashed on the Bridgetown Arena scoreboard announcing that the remaining games would be closed to the public. The announcement drew a chorus of boos from the crowd.

Speculation soon grew that the SEC Tournament might be canceled. Several other conferences, including the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast, had already decided to cancel their postseason tournaments.

But on Thursday morning, the games were still scheduled. Bjork, who was on his way to an 8:00 a.m. meeting, spoke with Buzz Williams at the team hotel and informed the A&M basketball coach the tournament was still on.

However, two hours later, while the Aggies were in a pre-game shoot-around, Bjork informed Williams that discussions were trending toward canceling the games.

At 10:47 a.m., the SEC released a statement that the tournament was canceled.

The event that pushed the SEC to cancel the tournament was the news that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus minutes before an NBA game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The NBA immediately postponed the game.

"A really, really pivotal moment in the athletic world is what happened with the NBA last night,” Bjork said.

The move put a premature end to the basketball careers of A&M seniors Josh Nebo and Wendell Mitchell.

“I haven’t had a chance to really interact with a lot of players, but I saw a few of them getting off the (hotel) elevator,” Bjork said. "We were doing the elbow bump. They were like, ‘It’s the right decision, let’s move on and work together on this.’

“I think they understood it. I think the NBA was a reality check for the sports world, and then you saw a lot of things happen in the aftermath of all that.”

Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey announced today the conference tournament would not continue.

Texas A&M was hoping to win enough games in Nashville to enhance its possibilities to extend its season into a national tournament — probably the NIT. The women’s basketball team, however, had secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Those tournaments also are now canceled.

Duke and Kansas were the first programs to announce they would not participate in the NCAA tournament, had they been played on schedule. The SEC had ruled its teams could have competed in the NCAA Tournaments, a ruling that is no longer relevant.

Bjork indicated a refund policy is being discussed for those who purchased tickets to suspended events. It’s not clear how the NCAA’s latest decision will affect every detail of athletic department operation, but prior to the NCAA announcement, Bjork outlined his anticipated procedure for practices. 

“The out-of-season sports already have schedules set,” Bjork said. “We have volleyball training. They have scrimmages. We have soccer training, and we have football training. Those would continue as scheduled, as of now.”

That includes the spring football game, which is scheduled for April 18. However, Bjork said there could be changes.

“We don’t have a decision on that whether it’s just a private scrimmage,” he said. “We don’t have that answer yet. These things have to develop further. As of now, I believe we’ll have football practice.”

Bjork indicated he’s confident in the overall health of the individual student-athletes.

“We’ve already monitored if anyone is symptomatic right now, so we don’t have any concerns about that,” he said. “As student-athletes come back from spring break, we’re going to have them check in to the training room to see if there are any symptoms.

“Those athletes that are in-season are already in touch with their trainers on a daily, hourly basis, so we don’t have any concerns as of now. If it comes to that and someone does show signs, we’ll have them tested. Right now, we don’t see a need for that.”

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SEC, Texas A&M making tough decisions amid rapidly-changing coronavirus news

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