Kansas City, Mo. — Most fans planning to attend the Big 12 men's basketball tournament on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Kansas City won't be allowed into the games because of concerns related to coronavirus, the Big 12 announced Wednesday afternoon.
After five hours of conversations and phone calls Wednesday afternoon, Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced that the conference was implementing a “limited access” policy for fans at the Big 12 tournament beginning Thursday. The policy essentially will give schools only 125 tickets per game for the remaining contests in the tournament.
The move, which was consistent with what had happened in conferences around the country, was made in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The announcement came just a couple of hours after the NCAA announced that the upcoming NCAA Tournament, at cities and sites throughout the country, would be played without fans in attendance, as well.
Bowlsby said arrangements would be made for fans to receive refunds for the Big 12 tournament tickets — most likely through each school's ticket office — and that the decision would lead to a significant loss of revenue for the Big 12 Conference.
The timing of Wednesday’s decision was too close to tip time of the opening-day games between Kansas State and TCU and Oklahoma State and Iowa State, Bowlsby said. So the tournament went on as planned on Wednesday night.
But for the seven remaining games through Saturday evening, teams will be given access to 125 tickets, pegged for family and close friends, and the tickets will be issued on a game-by-game basis instead of the standard per-session basis. The Sprint Center also will be cleared between games. And no pep bands, cheerleaders or spirit squads will be present.
“It’s been an interesting day with a lot of decisions,” Bowlsby said. “Obviously we don’t do this lightly.”
Bowlsby added that taking steps to keep fans out was “painful” but “appropriate.”
The Big 12's announcement applies to both the men's and women's basketball tournaments. The women's tournament also is being hosted in Kansas City, Thursday through Sunday at Municipal Auditorium.
In addition to the previously announced change of closing the locker rooms to media this week, Wednesday’s practice sessions and opening games featured other virus-related precautions. Interviews were conducted at a distance, hand washing and sanitizer stations set up throughout the Sprint Center media room and snacks were put in individual serving cups instead of large bowls.
The Big 12’s decision to limit fan access came after the Jayhawks left the building. But Kansas coach Bill Self and a few KU players reacted to the NCAA Touranment’s decision to move forward without spectators after a light practice at Sprint Center on Wednesday afternoon.
“The thing I told them is it sucks,” Self said. “But it doesn’t just stink for us. It stinks for everybody that wants to go be entertained at a concert, the (stock) market, sporting events, schools. It’s far bigger than just men’s basketball.”
Senior guard Isaiah Moss, who will be playing in his first Big 12 tournament with the Jayhawks, said Self had prepared the team for the possibility of not having fans in the stands this week, as well.
“We know that we still have to compete at a high level and try to win the ball game,” Moss said.
Added Self: “I think we can control our attitudes. I think we can control if we’re going to view this as a negative or a positive and be mature and say, ‘This is life.’ The kids will still play like there’s no tomorrow. It’ll be different, but we’ll make the most of it.”
At a time when some events and tournaments have been canceled altogether — including the entire spring season in the Ivy League — KU sophomore David McCormack said he was happy just to be playing.
“Controlling what we can control is definitely our mindset,” McCormack said. “We’re fortunate enough to still be able to play the game we love and still enjoy it with our teammates and coaches.”
Kansas opens play at this year’s tournament at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.