The first signs of the coronavirus impacting Big 12 basketball arrived Tuesday afternoon, when the conference announced that locker rooms would be closed to reporters at this week’s Big 12 tournaments at Sprint Center and Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
The move is the latest in a nationwide series of responses to the virus that has rapidly spread at locations throughout the world, impacting everything from public events and travel to the stock market, politics and more.
The Big 12’s announcement came just hours after the Ivy League announced the cancellation of its postseason tournaments and after Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer announced plans to close its locker rooms, as well.
The men's tournament opens Wednesday night and features top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Kansas playing its first game at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The women's tournament begins Thursday and runs through Sunday, with 10th-seeded Kansas playing its first game at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Citing a desire to “ensure the safety of everyone in attendance,” the Big 12 on Tuesday announced the following changes for this year’s events.
• Locker rooms will be closed to media. All formal, informal and one-on-one interviews will occur in the interview room with coaches and student-athletes seated on the dais. Media must sit in the provided chairs.
• Media will be allowed to attend practices as currently prescribed but will be allowed no closer than behind the second row of the media seating section. Media may not stand on the baselines or behind the scorer’s table and team benches. Media may shoot video or pictures from the stands or upper photo area during practice sessions.
• Media may not access the court at any time during the (tournament). Photographers must stay in the photo boxes or on the sideline in front of the media section at the conclusion of games, including the (tournament final). Arrangements will be made so that photographers can get a picture of the championship team from this location.
While this move will impact the Big 12 tournament, there is growing concern and speculation throughout the sports world that the NCAA Tournament, college basketball’s multi-million-dollar event which is slated to begin March 17 in Dayton, Ohio, could be affected, as well, with the NCAA potentially even playing its signature event without fans in the stands.
Last week, a Division III NCAA Tournament game in Baltimore was played without fans. Signs on the doors to the arena simply read: “No spectators.”
Asked Monday if that move, and talk of others like it, had him concerned about playing the postseason in unusual environments, Kansas coach Bill Self said he had not given it much thought.
“I’ve had enough stuff to think about and worry about in recent weeks or months,” Self said. “We all hope and pray for the best and all that. But whatever happens we’ll deal with and adjust. That’s something we have no control over. But it would obviously be sad for our sport.”
Given the competitiveness of his players, and of college basketball programs as a whole, along with the fact that the games likely would still be televised and the big prize would still be up for grabs, Self said he thought the Jayhawks and all other teams would still compete just as hard.
Those competitions might just look and sound a lot different than people are used to.
“Think about this,” Self said. “Think about a coach yelling at an official with nobody in the gym, compared to when an official can’t hear you. The sportsmanship code will be certainly stressed in that situation because everything you say will become public.
“I do think (it would) be different. And, certainly, (it would) take away (from the events). But I think if you’ve got teams competing for a championship, the drive and the adrenaline will still be there.”