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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The most local domino in the sports world’s fluid response to coronavirus fell Thursday morning.
The biggest domino would fall just hours later.
The final three days of the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament at Sprint Center were canceled, league officials announced in a news conference held less than 30 minutes before the scheduled tipoff of what would’ve been the event’s first quarterfinal contest. The Big 12’s decision to cancel its postseason tournament came after similar calls by the Big Ten, SEC and AAC, with other major conferences following suit.
The Big 12’s decision also came approximately four hours before the NCAA shut its operation down entirely, canceling its men’s and women’s national tournaments as well as all other winter and spring championship events.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby foreshadowed the NCAA’s looming decision in his earlier news conference regarding the cancellation of his conference tournament.
"We believe this is the right thing. I feel terrible for the seniors that are involved in this tournament," Bowlsby said. "This was an opportunity for them to be on (this stage), the last time through the Big 12 Tournament. It unfortunately could be the last basketball that they’re going to have a chance to play as college kids."
Kansas, the nation’s top-ranked team and a squad that almost certainly would’ve been the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1-overall seed, was set to tip off its Big 12 Tournament run at 1:30 p.m. Thursday against Oklahoma State.
That, of course, didn’t happen, with seniors Udoka Azubuike, Isaiah Moss and others left wondering at the time if they’d played their final collegiate contest.
"While we are disappointed for the players, it was the right and necessary thing to do," said KU coach Bill Self on the decision to cancel the Big 12 Tournament. "As I said (Wednesday), this is bigger than a sport or championship."
The Big 12, which on Wednesday announced its event would be played without fans beginning in the quarterfinals, made its decision to cancel the tournament entirely after Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas' ban of all public events with more than 1,000 attendees.
"I feel good that we’ve made the right decisions for the right reasons," Bowlsby said, "but I also really have a sense of loss for those seniors and for the two teams that won games yesterday and had that dream of win and advance that you get in March."
Also canceled was the Big 12 women’s basketball tournament, which was set to begin Thursday at nearby Municipal Auditorium.
"I feel particularly bad for the players," Bowlsby said. "We didn’t hear from anybody that they didn’t want to play or that the coaches didn’t want to coach, but we just felt that in the interest of heeding the advice we were hearing and being conservative with everybody’s best health that cancellation was the right outcome for our men’s and women’s tournaments."
The fate of the Big 12 tournaments "dominated the agenda" of his Thursday meeting with conference athletic directors, but Bowlsby added the group will reconvene and consider the future of this year's spring football slate.
"I know there are some that are considering not holding spring football. I know there are others who are trying to figure out the logistics of actually having spring football," Bowlsby said. "We may adopt a conference-wide policy on it, but our athletics directors haven't considered the matter just yet."
No one involved with either basketball tournament has been tested for coronavirus, Bowlsby said, but there appears to be no reason to believe anyone was exposed.
"It’s disappointing. As I said yesterday, it’s heartbreaking," Bowlsby said. "I think this is one of the really great sporting events in America and this is a great city for it, a great venue for it. We were looking forward to being over at Municipal Auditorium. It’s just disappointing so many, many ways, but I think it’s emblematic of how our country will be responding to what is a very unusual set of circumstances."