The worldwide spread of coronavirus — and the disease it causes, COVID-19 — has started to impact NJCAA championship events as well as schools throughout the Kansas Jayhawk Conference.
The NJCAA released a statement on Wednesday with regards to its national basketball tournaments.
The @NJCAA has provided an update to national championship events regarding COVID-19."The NJCAA has made the decision to follow all state laws, restrictions, and guidelines in regards to upcoming national championship events."Statement | https://t.co/Q0xpixZSr5 pic.twitter.com/iUrpn1iE3R— NJCAA (@NJCAA) March 11, 2020
“Upon further discussion with NJCAA Leadership, fellow collegiate athletic associations, and national tournament hosts, the NJCAA has made the decision to follow all state laws, restrictions and guidelines in regards to upcoming national championship events,” the statement read. “Aside from the tournaments, the NJCAA has made the decision to cancel all banquet, community service and all non-essential engagement events, including media access to student-athletes and teams that occur at each of the championships.”
Labette, which is set to compete in the NJCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship in Port Huron, Michigan, next week, will see some of the most drastic measured implemented thus far.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer advised against gatherings of more than 100 people.
“In order to comply with Michigan protocol, the NJCAA has made the decision to limit the NJCAA DII Women’s Basketball Championship to student-athletes, coaches, team personnel and necessary college administrators,” the NJCAA said.
Labette Cardinals head coach Mitch Rolls said he expected a mandate of some sort after the NCAA announced earlier in the day that it would conduct its Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments without fans.
“I’m pretty shocked they went to those lengths,” Rolls said. “But after seeing what the NCAA did, I expected something like this to happen. It doesn’t change a whole lot for us crowd wise. We weren’t going to have a big crowd anyways.”
Rolls added that missing out on championship events such as the banquet was a damper to the overall experience.
“I was looking forward to the banquet,” Rolls said. “The girls traveled to Tulsa to buy new clothes. So I’m pretty upset about that.”
Labette is currently scheduled to travel to Michigan on Monday, while its first round matchup with Union County (N.J) is scheduled for Tuesday.
“I’m still processing and trying to figure out who can and who cannot go within the guidelines,” Labette Athletic Director Aaron Keal said. “I’ll be on the phone first thing in the morning to get justification on who that is. My main concern right now is making sure the team has safe travels there and back. I’m worried if the team has to stay there for a prolonged period of time if things go bad.”
Rolls said his team will restrict themselves to the hotel for most of the trip and that food is his biggest concern.
“We’re going to quarantine ourselves to the bus and hotel rooms as much as possible,” Rolls said. “The big worry for me is ordering food and how we’ll feed them safely. I’m thinking about who we’ll contact for food and making sure it’s sanitary.”
Other schools in the KJCCC are reacting to the potential spread of the coronavirus.
Neosho County announced on Wednesday that all school-sponsored out-of-state travel was restricted for the rest of March — that includes teams traveling out of state for scheduled games.
KJCCC Commissioner Carl Heinrich said the conference is monitoring each school’s decision and course of action.
“I’m going to support any decision that an institution makes,” Heinrich said. “If that means that there’s two or three schools that aren’t going to complete their season, then we’ll have to take a step back and determine how to play our postseason if it’s allowable.
“We’re following what the NJCAA is saying at this point in time. It’s NJCAA national events, so we have all their guidelines. I can’t tell schools not to go if the NJCAA is allowing them to go.”
In a statement sent to the Sun from the KJCCC, the conference announced that “all KJCCC activities will continue as scheduled. The KJCCC encourages its member institutions to take all necessary precautions and respects the specific institutions and the additional precautions they may take.”
With spring sports in full swing in the KJCCC, the NJCAA sent out guidelines that requests all schools inform the national office of any travel restrictions. Any games that are not played due to travel restrictions will be viewed as “no contests” and not forfeits, but the NJCAA is encouraging schools to attempt to reschedule games.
The NJCAA also informed schools that if a college makes a decision to cancel its season this spring because of coronavirus concerns, all participants on that team will be granted a hardship if the cancellation comes on or before April 3 and less than 60% of the season has been completed. Student-athletes granted hardships do not lose a year of eligibility.
“We’ve got to empower our community colleges to make the right decisions,” Heinrich said. “They know their students better than anyone else in terms of where they come from and where they’ve been. We’ve got to respect that.”
Multiple KJCCC schools are deliberating internally what action to take. According to the Montgomery County Chronicle, Independence will track student-athlete travel during spring break.
“Of course we want safety for our student athletes,” Heinrich said. “One of the biggest concerns right now is the schools going on spring break. Kids are going home. So coming back from spring break is a big concern on the campuses.”
Three other schools in the conference are currently scheduled to compete in national basketball tournaments. The Division I men’s tournament in Hutchinson is proceeding as scheduled. Coffeyville, Cowley and Colby will compete in that tournament. Kansas City Kansas will travel to the Division II men’s tournament in Danville, Illinois, which will also proceed as scheduled. In addition to Labette traveling to the Division II tournament in Michigan, Butler and Seward County will travel to Lubbock, Texas, for the Division I tournament. That tournament will go on as scheduled as well.
Wednesday’s developments come on the heels of the NCAA announcing that its basketball tournaments will be played without fans and the Big 12 restricting competing schools to 125 tickets for fans at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City starting Thursday.
The NBA also announced that it is suspending its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus.
Heinrich added that while Wednesday’s updates provide a road map going forward, that the situation relating to the outbreak of the coronavirus is still evolving.
“At this point, nobody knows. We’re in uncharted waters,” Heinrich said.
The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic on Wednesday. The virus causes respiratory illness with symptoms including cough, fever and pneumonia in more severe cases.
At the time of publication, only one case of the virus has been confirmed in Kansas — a woman in Johnson County who was admitted to the University of Kansas Hospital.