Big 12 Championship Events Cancelled For March, Early April
KANSAS CITY – In a mixture of old and new definitions of the term “viral,” the Big 12 Conference cancelled its championship events through April 15 on Thursday morning.
Word of the effects of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, spread in viral fashion across the world stage over the past few days, picking up steam just as the spread of the illness itself has. The Big 12, continuing conversations and discussions it had conducted in making the decision to close the men’s and women’s basketball championships in Kansas City to fans a day earlier, made the decision late Thursday morning to cancel the events entirely.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby noted that while he was saddened and disheartened by the effects of the decision on student-athletes, he was confident that the correct decision was made. Conducting future Big 12 championships in other sports this season will be evaluated and determined by April 15. For now, the men’s and women’s basketball, gymnastics, which was slated for the WVU Coliseum next weekend, and equestrian championships are cancelled.
“I feel good that we made the right decision for the right reasons,” Bowlsby noted. “But I also really have a sense of loss for the seniors and everyone affected by it.”
One of the biggest factors in moving from a closed event, according to Bowlsby, was a declaration of a State of Emergency by Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas. Lucas relied on information from his directors of health and emergency medical services in making that determination. That pronouncement banned any gatherings of more than 1,000 people, and while the reduced-access Big 12 Championship might not have reached that threshold, the intent of the declaration was clear and would have left the league at loggerheads with its host city had it decided to continue with the event.
West Virginia’s director of athletics Shane Lyons supported the decision to cancel the tournaments.
“The situation is fluid and the safety of all involved has to be the priority,” said Lyons. “Yesterday, the conference made a decision based on the best information available at that time. Today, the Big 12 acted swiftly and appropriately to further ensure that we do our part in containing COVID-19. While everyone is disappointed, based on the information provided by health care officials, this decision is the right call.”
Texas Tech and Texas players were already on the court warming up for the first game of Thursday’s quarterfinal of the men’s tournament when conference officials came out to inform them of the decision prior to the scheduled 11:30 a.m. (central time) tip-off. Broadcast positions were immediately broken down, and workers began packing up the media materials made available to those working the event.
All of the other Access 5 (Power 5) conferences have also cancelled their tournaments. The Big East, which is trying to elbow its way into the A5/P5 group, allowed play to begin on Thursday morning, but pulled players off the floor in the middle of the Creighton-St. John’s contest and joined the cancellation parade. Bowlsby noted that he had been speaking with all of the other A5 commissioners throughout the night and early morning, but that Big East commissioner Val Ackerman was not part of that call.
Bowlsby could not assess the total financial impact to the league, but noted that insurance does not exist to cover this sort of event. He estimated that the loss of ticket revenue would be some $7-8 million alone. Details of losses in broadcast rights and the like were not easily broken down, according to Bowlsby, and could not be quickly estimated, but will also be significant.
“We will have discussions and negotiations with our broadcast partners on those issues,” Bowlsby said.
Looking forward, Bowlsby could not predict what the NCAA might do with its tournament next week.
“It’s hard to tell if there’s going to be an NCAA Tournament to play-in or if it’ll look different than the March Madness we have come to know,” he said. “I suppose (our decision) could have an effect on it.”
Both Mountaineer men’s and women’s basketball teams were in Kansas City awaiting the start of their respective tournaments, which were going to be played in separate arenas in K.C. Each WVU squad had entered the Big 12 Championships as six seeds. The men were slated to face Oklahoma in quarterfinal action Thursday night, while the women were readying for a matchup with Texas on Friday. The Mountaineers players and staff members are now returning to Morgantown without have the opportunity to play a game.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed for our team, our staff and all of Mountaineer Nation, particularly in light as to how our team responded so well in recent games and practices after a tough stretch of the season,” stated WVU men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins. “However, this is a very serious matter globally and the health and safety of all involved is the priority.”
“We’re very disappointed, but we understand why the tournament was called off,” added West Virginia women’s basketball coach Mike Carey. “I feel bad for the seniors that didn’t have an opportunity to play in this tournament or even for the young underclassmen. The Big 12 is doing everything they can to ensure safety for everybody, and we understand why this is occurring. But I feel bad, especially, for the seniors on the team.”