Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced on Wednesday that fans would not be allowed to attend the remaining games of the men’s and women’s basketball tournament as a precautionary measure to prevent spread of the coronavirus. HeartlandCollegeSports.com was on site for the announcement. This comes in the wake of the NCAA announcing fans would not attend its basketball tournament this year. Here are Bowlsby’s complete thoughts on the decision.
It’s been an interesting day with a lot of decisions. We are announcing today that beginning with tomorrow’s tournament games, we will be implementing limited access. What that means for our teams is they’ll have access to 125 tickets. They’ll be ticketed in a game by game (basis). And we’ll clear the venue after each game. We, our athletic directors, have decided that the tickets would go to student athletes and staff members, and that we do not plan to have pep bands, cheerleaders or dance teams. So the attempt is to absolutely minimize the number of people that are here but still to find a way to conduct the events and actually get the opportunity to play the games. We have done this in consultation with a number of different entities. Among them, our Conference Board of Directors voted unanimously to implement this process. We also have been advised by the KU (Kansas) Medical Center emergency response team, the CDC, public health officials, the city of Kansas City and also the Sports Commission. And so obviously we don’t do this lightly. I think we are blessed to have the best basketball tournament in all of college basketball and to have to take these steps is painful for everyone that’s involved. But these are unusual times. And so we have taken the steps that we think are appropriate. Some of it was at the leadership of the NCAA, but I want to reiterate that I’ve been on the phone with my colleagues three times today, are they I think you’ll see that most of them are doing likewise. So let me stop there and address your questions.
Bob, does this include the Women’s Tournament?
It does include the Women’s [Tournament].
Bob, can you discuss the mechanism and the machinery that went into this thing and how much were you taking into account what the NCAA was doing?
Until today, we have had no one tell us that having a building full of people was ill advised. That had been my public comment. I was confident in, in being in the crowd and we were assured that it was safe to assemble those crowds. Today that began to change. Certainly the NCAA has information that is part of the process. The president of Oklahoma State University was in the Board of Governors meeting when they received a report from the Advisory Committee to the NCAA and includes a former Surgeon General of the United States. And little by little we began to give thought to it. Interestingly enough, I was in a meeting at which our faculty athletics reps were in attendance, and we were actually talking about name, image and likeness of all things. Those tend not to be real cheery meetings. And yet, it got worse by the time we finished with it. So it’s been a process that’s been going on since about noon. And most recently, I just got off another A-5 call about 20 minutes. So it’s, it’s been a process.
Mr. Bowlsby, this is probably a little bit outside of your realm of expertise, but I’m assuming you’ve been talking to people here in the Power and Light District here in Kansas City. Are they, are you, encouraging people not to gather over there to watch the game or is this announcement just about what’s happened inside this building?
Well, one of the things we heard from was Anthony Fauci. I heard it the same way everybody else heard on television was that it’s going to get much, much worse. And so that isn’t, that isn’t me making an assessment. That’s the representative of the National Institutes of Health. And that’s his assessment. His advice was, don’t assemble in large crowds and use proper hygienic practices. And so I take him at his word. He’s one of the foremost authorities in the country. And that was a much more severe warning than what we had heard previously. And so we drew our conclusions of our own medical standpoint, but it relied on the best advisors. We could including those that are advised to DMCA and our federal government.
(Next answer was to a question about whether Bowlsby’s time on the NCAA Tournament committee gave him any additional insight into what went on today)
Well, you know, I was actually explaining that the closest thing I’ve had to this experience was when I was on the basketball committee. The Department of Defense was actually in contact with us about initiating hostilities in Iraq. And we had some very oddly-timed conference calls and I always thought it was exceedingly strange that that we would be a part of anything that had to do with military operations, but the representatives made us understand just how important March Madness is to the culture of our country, and how disconcerting it would be to not play the tournament. And so from that point, perhaps before that, and certainly from that point, you just get a feeling for how part of how much a part of Americana this tournament is. And so, you know, I consider our tournament an extension of that. And this is going to be disruptive in ways that nothing else has been relatively recently, and so I care deeply about the tournament. I was on the committee for five years and served twice as the chair. I’ve also just recently talked with Dan Gavitt and you know, he feels awful about the way it’s gone. We live for this time of year and this isn’t any fun.
Bob, maybe a different questions for different time that there was a Is there a way for fans to get their money back?
We haven’t had an opportunity to, to talk with the folks here at Spring Center. And as you know, a lot of the tickets are distributed by the schools themselves. And so I think each refund process will be an individual undertaking, but certainly, that’s, that’s our intention. And I just would like to apologize to all of our fans that are not going to be able to be here as they really look forward to this. And as I said earlier, I think it’s the best tournament of its kind in the country. And so I’m very sorry to disrupt what I know is a much anticipated weekend for a lot of people.
Yeah, Bob. Was there any talk today about tonight’s (Wednesday’s) session doing the same thing?
I took a little bit of a leap, I guess probably personally because it was a little after four when I got done with one of the conference calls. And I asked Jeff to contact our colleagues in the building and we were going to open the doors at 4:30, and we asked them to hold off on it for a while because we actually were considering whether that was a practical thing. And in the end, while it is a large gathering of people, we felt like the disruption, with people that were already here parked outside the venue, it just might be more dangerous to not go forward with it. So in the interest of trying to manage it as efficiently as we possibly could, I made that decision.
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