‘Sporting world on hold:’ Kentucky, Indiana adjust to ‘new normal’

In Kentucky and Indiana, if you took a poll of the most important things in life, God and basketball would be in the Associated Press Top 5. On Wednesday morning, Kentuckians were told they might want to think about not going to church on Sunday, and by Wednesday evening citizens of both states were told that they definitely couldn’t go watch their college basketball teams in person.

If anything could bring home the seriousness with which public officials are taking the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus, that would be it.

At the SEC Tournament in Nashville, conference commissioner Greg Sankey sat before reporters and seemed as shell-shocked as they were. He was there to tell them that the SEC Tournament would go on, but that it would go on without fans.

“When I woke up this morning, I did not anticipate being here with you at this moment in this fashion today with this news,” he said. “I am going to take a moment.”

It’s fair to say that we all probably need to take a moment. The world, it seems, keeps changing before we have a chance to adjust to the last change. The NBA has suspended its season, and while the NCAA and its major conferences have made the decision to hold their tournaments without fans, the events at the Big Ten Tournament late Wednesday make clear, whether these events will continue to be held at all very much remains in question.

Wednesday evening, in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg, who had been feeling sick before his team’s game against Indiana, got increasingly sick as the contest progressed. He left the game early and was taken to the hospital. His team was held in the locker room afterward while he was examined, and later diagnosed with influenza-A after testing. Indiana coach Archie Miller decided not to bring his players to the postgame news conference.

Indiana coach Archie Miller. (Eric Crawford photo)

Miller said he told his team of the NBA’s decision in the locker room.

“We’ll brace ourselves for what happens next,” he said. “It’s obviously a very evolving situation and it’s rapid. But it puts it into reality of the seriousness, and when world experts start to recommend things, you obviously better listen. Obviously, you cross your fingers that the college basketball landscape can continue, even without you. When you grind it out and get to this point in the season, it’s a special time for our young guys. And to get here, with this happening, obviously is a little unfortunate. We’re crossing our fingers that we’ll be allowed to continue to play. But when experts speak you, you better listen. I think the NBA just put the sporting world on hold.”

Down in Nashville, after an SEC Tournament win over Ole Miss, Georgia coach Tom Crean, formerly of Indiana, said, “In this world now, it’s the new normal. The new normal that’s come quickly, right? . . . I cannot begin to describe what’s going on in our world right now with this coronavirus. There’s a lot of people making decisions that can. That’s what you have to do. You have to trust the people that have the knowledge and are getting all the information that they have.”

Just after midnight on a historic and stunning day in American sports, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt was wrapping the day up on SportsCenter with college basketball writer Sean Farnham, who told him, “I just don’t see a path that we’re going to have a Selection Show on Sunday.”

After a day like few of us have ever seen, it’s fair to say few of us now would be surprised.