The Runner Arcives/ Collage by: Mari Woomansee
With excitement mounting and the feeling of championship basketball buzzing around the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas, CSU Bakersfield’s basketball teams arrived with their heads and expectations high, ready to take part in their final Western Athletic Conference Tournament in program history.
But as they stepped off that bus, none of them could have known that the opportunity to play that one last game would never come.
Before the CSUB women’s basketball team was able to start their game Wednesday night against the third seeded Grand Canyon University ‘Lopes, an emergency announcement was made over the intercom. The arena announcer asked for everyone to vacate the arena and that the final game of the night was being postponed until Thursday morning, March 12, at 9:30 a.m. due to a “health issue” with a player.
When asked by the media if the game was postponed due to the concerns posed by the NBA’s shutdown of their season due to a Coronavirus outbreak within the organization, head coach Greg McCall stated there was a possibility it could have played a factor in the decision, but the safety of the players was priority one.
“That could’ve happened, but we are not for sure. But it’s just for the safety of our kids right now. We just want to make sure they are safe, on both sides and that’s what it’s all about right now is the safety of our kids,” McCall said.
It is unknown exactly what the health issue was or which player was affected, but it was stated that the player was escorted to the hospital to be tested for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This virus has been plaguing the world for some time, and professional sports organizations such as the NBA, MLB, and NHL are taking serious precautions, suspending their seasons until further notice. Now it has clearly hit home with sports fans and NCAA executives, showing how serious this pandemic really is.
“It’s been something brewing all day across the nation, and I think the biggest term I’ve heard is, it’s a fluid-situation,” CSUB Athletic Director Kenneth Siegfried said during a press conference Wednesday night. “And ultimately, it’s a decision that everyone involved felt was the best way to move about with the safety and health of our student athletes.”
The WAC released a statement saying that the player who was tested had never entered the arena, but was escorted from the hotel to a hospital for testing, and that the game and tournament were being postponed pending those test results.
In a previously scheduled meeting on Thursday morning, athletic directors and presidents of the WAC came to the decision that the WAC tournament to follow suit with the rest of the NCAA and put an abrupt end to the remainder of the tournament and season until further notice.
WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd held a press conference in the Orleans Arena Thursday afternoon and answered questions about the decision to cancel the tournament. Hurd stated that it wasn’t a decision anyone wanted to make, but that it was necessary to ensure the safety of the players.
“I think you have to look at the total picture. Our efforts in our decision in our discussion this morning was based solely on what’s best for the student-athletes involved, both short term and long term,” Hurd said.
Several NCAA major sports conferences, including the Big Ten, PAC-12, SEC, ACC, and the Big 12, had already announced the cancellations of their championship basketball tournaments around the country in efforts to protect players and fans, leaving the future of the NCAA tournament up in the air. This led to an announcement Thursday morning by NCAA executives that the illustrious March Madness tournament, as well as all sports going forward, would be postponed due to the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
Although Hurd was confident that the player in question did not have the virus, he still recognizes the immediate concerns it poses.
“If we are going to make a mistake, we are going to make it on the side of caution,” Hurd stated. “We may be accused of over-caution, if that’s the case so be it. I think we made the right decision and I think we made the only decision that was available and made sense.” Hurd later commented that he believes the conference would be negligent if safety was not taken into account first, and that the WAC is prepared to go the entire spring without a single game played.
With this decision to shut down all sports going forward, the NCAA quickly addressed a concern among spring athletes about losing a year of eligibility. On Friday, March 13, The NCAA released a statement saying all student athletes in spring sports who are affected by this shutdown will receive another year of eligibility. According to the statement, “Council leadership agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports.”
Although more details on the eligibility relief will come at a later time due to some NCAA rules that need to be addressed first, this means that members, and more specifically seniors, on the CSUB baseball, softball, beach volleyball, women’s golf, and track and field teams will be allowed to continue their college careers after this pandemic settles.
Although CSUB sports is currently sitting in a state of limbo, athletes and fans are both confident that their teams will be back before too long. There’s no telling exactly what kind of impact COVID-19 will have on the world of CSUB sports, but athletics will be taking to cautious approach regardless to protect their students and fans.