At 5:45 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey knew attendance policy would have to be adjusted for the following day of the SEC men’s basketball tournament due to growing concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
Georgia, which was set to play against Ole Miss at 6 p.m. CDT, would be one of the last two games to be played in front of fans.
Less than 17 hours later, Sankey was on a call when he came to a decision that the SEC men’s basketball tournament would be canceled. Not long after the tournament’s cancelation, it was decided that all SEC sports and events would be suspended until at least March 30.
Between the stark change in circumstances, a multitude of developments took place. The NBA was suspended after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. Sankey received sudden information about the spread of coronavirus from the COVID-19 advisory panel, and tough decisions were needed.
“I’ve not had a situation as difficult and emotional as this one,” Sankey said. “[Canceling the SEC tournament] was a moment when I had to stop and actually catch myself and recompose myself.”
With the suspension of spring sports, more questions were created than can be answered. Recruiting issues, spring practice and spring football games were discussed, but Sankey hadn’t had the time to consider every item and come up with resolutions as of press time.
Sankey and the SEC will use the time between now and March 30 to evaluate, alter plans and take a step back from the intense two-day period that featured a multitude of reactive decisions. With more than two weeks to work with, Sankey and the SEC will have a chance to be proactive.
“I have an undergraduate degree [and a] Masters degree from Syracuse. This [situation] was never in any of my Masters classes," Sankey said. “So that’s reality. We’re learning. We’re making the best decisions on the best available information.”
As the SEC reassesses, coaches and players are left with a cloud of confusion of what to do next. Georgia men’s basketball head coach Tom Crean and his team started out their morning as usual.
The Bulldogs ate breakfast, stretched and prepared for their matchup with Florida that was scheduled for later in the afternoon. Crean said they were about to sit down to watch more film before their final walkthrough when news emerged about the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament being canceled.
Nearly 30 seconds before the start of the film session, news about the SEC tournament’s cancellation flooded onto social media.
Along with the cancelation of the tournament, Crean said he thought the players were stunned as part of the basketball community when Gobert and fellow Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell tested positive for COVID-19. With news happening so fast and coming out every few minutes, Crean said it’s hard to process everything that happens.
“This is such an incredibly tumultuous time for everybody,” Crean said in a teleconference on Thursday afternoon. “The most important thing that [the players] can learn from all of this is that when they are responsible for their families someday, they will always put their safety, their health and their wellbeing at the front of everything.”
Crean said it’s important that he, his staff and his players remain flexible during the constantly-changing situation and be thankful for good health. Even if it’s not their first choice to give up a chance to play in the SEC tournament, the decisions have to be respected.
Crean read his players the statement given out by Sankey and Dan Leibovitz, Associate Commissioner for men’s basketball, to show the emotion that went into the decision.
As for this season’s implications, Crean remains the mantra of flexibility. His team defeated Ole Miss 81-63, have a 16-16 record and are technically eligible for the National Invitational Tournament.
“We’re not bringing closure to anything right now,” Crean said. “We don’t know what’s next in basketball just like we don’t know what’s next in the world. And let’s just make sure that we understand that these decisions are being made for not only our short-term health, but our long-term health.”