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Big East cancels remainder of conference basketball tournament

The news came during halftime of the first quarterfinal game of the day.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 05 Villanova at Butler Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Following the lead of numerous other conferences around the country, the Big East cancelled the remainder of its basketball tournament.

The decision was made official during halftime of the Creighton-St. John’s quarterfinal game. The Red Storm was leading at half, 38-35, in front of a limited crowd that featured family, media, event staff, and player and team personnel.

“Following a call with our Presidents and Athletic Directors and additional consultation with the City of New York, the Big East Conference has cancelled the remainder of our men’s basketball tournament, effective immediately,” Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said in a statement. “We believe the decision is in the best interests of our participants and fans.”

She elaborated on the decision and the statement afterwards.

“We felt like we didn’t need a dramatic pull the plug gesture of pulling the players in the middle of the game...but it didn’t make sense to pull them after halftime and send them back out there,” she said, about playing on as opposed to cutting things off in the middle of the first half. “That’s the decision we made, and we stand by the decision.”

Press conference transcript:

Q. When the news stories came down that other conference tournaments, especially ones playing in NBA arenas had started to cancel their tournaments, was there consideration given to delaying the start of this until conference could be had before this even got underway?

Ackerman: We didn’t entertain it. When we got this news, we were just not aware. We were just taken aback by the news. We just, we just we thought it was appropriate to start, to play until halftime and that’s what we decided to do. That was a decision we made.

Q. Sounds like that’s the entire gist of your statement, but how much harder is it to move things like this as the NCAA, which is so decentralized, unlike the NBA, which just has the Board of Governors meet, how has that been affecting things for you all week, really?

Ackerman: The NCAA, their decision to go to a restricted attendance policy for the NCAA Tournament was made by their Board of Governors. Just a little primer here: The NCAA’s highest governing body is the governors; it’s made up of representatives from all three divisions. That was the body that made the decision relative to the NCAA Tournament that broke yesterday afternoon.

That decision was made in consultation with a COVID-19 medical panel that the Board of Governors had assembled representing pre-eminent doctors around the country. One of them was the former Surgeon General of the U.S., Vivek Murthy, who is also a member of the BOG.

I will tell you up until we actually had — we’ve had multiple conference calls in the last several days with our board. As recently as Monday, the NCAA’s medical director, on advice of the COVID advisory panel, was telling us that the NCAA was not planning any adjustments to their tournament at that time. So as recently as Monday, the guidance we were getting from the NCAA was not to cancel and not to go to a restricted attendance policy unless the local authorities are telling you to do that.

The answer is the NCAA is making a decision about its tournament because that’s where it has jurisdiction. But then each conference is left to itself to make decisions relative to the events that it, manages, and in the case of all the conferences that includes their basketball tournaments.

Q. Today you were finding things out in real time. You weren’t getting heads-up about it?

Ackerman: We had no heads-up on this one.

Q. Last night, when the National Basketball Association deemed that it wasn’t even safe to play games with limited access or no fans or not open to the public, should this have happened then?

Ackerman: Well, hindsight maybe is 20/20. I don’t know the answer to that. At the time we heard that directive, the NCAA was not making any determinations, other than restricted attendance. So we were following their lead. The City of New York at that time was still not making any determinations, and we’ve been consulting with them multiple times daily.

And so we felt that with the information that we had at the time — I think the NBA decision was in part driven by a positive Coronavirus test as well by an athlete, which we don’t have in the Big East. So they were operating on a slightly different fact set. And all I can tell you is based on the information that we had at the time last night we thought it was prudent to move forward with limited attendance, which we did. But we were prepared to adjust as needed, and that’s what we’ve done now, with these late-breaking.

Q. Were the athletes tested?

Ackerman: No, none have exhibited any signs of sickness. This is generally what happens is they exhibit signs of sickness, they’re tested. If they’re exposed to individuals who have tested positive, then we’re just following the guidance of everyone in terms of the directives issued by the CDC and the New York City Department of Health. We’re not aware of any positive tests of any athletes in the Big East.

Q. Should the NCAA play its tournament, knowing what you know now about the risk to student-athletes? Should they hold their tournament?

Ackerman: Again, the NCAA is going to decide, their board of governors, which I just referenced, is going to have to make that decision. My prediction — and I think that’s why they acted yesterday with the restricted attendance policy — my prediction is if things escalate in this country, as we’ve seen in other parts of the world, I suspect it’s going to be very difficult for them to hold onto the NCAA Tournament as planned.

That’s just a prediction. It’s not my call. But again they’re conferring with expert doctors and they’re going to have to make these judgments. The tournament starts next week. Of course the Garden is supposed to host the East Regional. They’ll be directly impacted by any decision they make.

But it just seems, I’m not a doctor here, but it just seems like this trajectory is only intensifying. And so I suspect it’s going to be very difficult to do it.

Q. Commissioner, during the early part of this week Mayor de Blasio went on to different media outlets to talk about his feel about, unless he got the word from the Feds, about what to do here. He thought he wanted all the activities in New York to continue. When you talk about talking to the city, did that include his feedback?

Ackerman: No. My information is limited to the contacts that we have. I don’t have — I don’t want to sit up here and pretend I’m an authority on what New York City will do or won’t. I can tell you that my information, from the contact that I have and I trust is that the city is preparing to adopt some measures. I can’t speak how far they’re going to go. But I think every city right now is grappling with large gatherings, public schools, mass transit.

The Theater District, in the case of New York, I mean school closings, of course, have already started to happen. So, look, folks, we’re dealing with just — it’s an extraordinary and in many ways unprecedented set of challenges for all of us.

I take the subway to work. So we’re all — we’re all just having to rely on the authorities who are in the best position to assess the risks and to opine on the available science. And it’s just — it’s just progressing in a way that’s, I think, unprecedented. And so I think you’re going to continue to see these real-time reactions from various entities. Frankly, we know more today than we did a week ago or the week before. And we’ll know more a week from now. And so that’s why I’m the last one to be able to opine on what’s going to happen to the NCAA Tournament that’s supposed to start next Wednesday.

So the city will make its announcement and we’ll see and we’ll take their cues and we’ll go from there. Thank you.