For the remainder of the 2020 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament, there will be no crowd noise, no bands playing in the background and no cheerleaders chanting on the baseline. The champion will be crowned in an empty arena.
The league announced Wednesday evening that fans will not be allowed to attend games in Bridgestone Arena starting Thursday in response to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
Only essential staff, limited family and credentialed media will be able to attend the games in Nashville, Tennessee, for the final four days following the recommendation of the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel related to conducting sporting events closed to the public.
The SEC's decision followed other Power 5 conferences.
NCAA president Mark Emmert announced the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments would be closed to fans out of concern over the virus, just hours prior.
With the growing rate of cases for COVID-19, conference officials determined that the safest course of action is to prevent a large number of fans from congregating. In the conference's press release, Sankey alerted schools and their fans that they would not be permitted in Bridgestone arena for the remainder of the contests.
"In light of recent developments beyond our control related to the spread of the coronavirus, including a recommendation from the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel, and after consultation with our member universities, we have made the difficult decision to hold the 2020 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament in Nashville without spectators beginning with games of Thursday, March 12," Sankey said.
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The commissioner also added that the ban will last beyond the tournament, which would include on-campus sporting events like baseball and softball.
“Effective immediately, the policy will also apply to other SEC Championship events and on-campus regular season games scheduled through at least the end of March," Sankey said.
Sankey concluded his statement by stating his confidence, despite the backlash that may come with it, in the SEC's decision to withhold spectators.
"After conferring with local and national health authorities, we remain confident in our ability to safeguard the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and other staff who will be participating as well as the limited number of family members and media who will be in attendance at the tournament," Sankey said. "We regret the inconvenience and disappointment this decision has caused our fans, especially those who have already traveled to Nashville for the tournament.”
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