NASHVILLE • Twelve years later, the SEC will again decide a tournament champion before almost no fans.
After a marathon meeting of athletics directors and SEC officials on Wednesday, the league announced that due to concerns over the possible spread of the coronavirus the remainder of games for the men’s basketball tournament at Bridgestone Arena will be played with only essential staff, limited family and credentialed media for the participating schools attending.
It was in 2008 that a tornado struck the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta, and tournament games were moved to a much smaller arena at Georgia Tech with similar fan restrictions.
Ole Miss-Georgia and Arkansas-Vanderbilt played the tournament’s first-round games on Wednesday night before a measurable number of fans, and the arena was half-full for those games.
In the days leading up to the tournament opening, SEC officials had surveyed the landscape and decided the show could go on.
Things changed quickly on Wednesday.
The limited parameters include campus events at all SEC schools through at least March 31. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are both at home for the start of SEC baseball play this weekend.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey cited recent developments including a recommendation from the NCAA’s COVID-19 Advisory Panel in making the decision.
“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 as well as the limited number of family members and media,” Sankey said.
Fans who purchased tickets through the SEC or member institutions will receive refunds. Sankey said the league would not be responsible for tickets purchased on the secondary market.
“We regret the inconvenience and disappointment this decision has caused our fans, especially those who have already travelled to Nashville for the tournament,” Sankey said.