The NJCAA announced on Thursday afternoon that the Division I and Division II men’s and women’s basketball tournaments had been postponed with a tentative start date of April 20 in response to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.
"Due to the concerns surrounding the safety and security of our student-athletes and those involved with Division I and Division II NJCAA championships, we are postponing the tournaments and maintaining a fluid mentality to see these tournaments take place with a tentative start date,” said NJCAA President and CEO Christopher Parker in a statement released by the association.
The Division I men’s tournament in Hutchinson, the Division I women’s tournament in Lubbock, Texas, the Division II men’s tournament in Danville, Illinois and the Division II women’s tournament in Port Huron, Michigan are the four affected.
Seven Kansas Jayhawk Conference schools in total were scheduled to compete in the four tournaments — Coffeyville, Cowley and Colby in the Division I men’s, Kansas City Kansas in the Division II men’s, Butler and Seward County in the Division I women’s and Labette in the Division II women’s.
Previously, the NJCAA had announced crowd restrictions at the Division II women’s tournament in Michigan, where Labette was slated to play in its first national tournament since 2010.
Labette head coach Mitch Rolls said he received the news of the postponement in the middle of practice and immediately gave his team the rest of the day off.
Rolls pointed out that the allure of an actual postponement date is in stark contrast to the nature of the announcement from the NCAA, which canceled all winter and spring sports championships in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.
“The positive I see in our announcement is that we just have a postponed date instead of a cancellation,” Rolls said. “The other positive is that we’re being preventive and cautious with our kids. Obviously we wish we were playing and traveling. But if this will keep our kids safe, that’s a good thing.”
Rolls said he had an impromptu team dinner on Thursday as he wonders whether it will be the last time he’ll have the current roster together on campus.
“I wanted to have the girls together,” Rolls said. “If everything shuts down...that’s why we went to dinner tonight as a team. A lot of the girls stay together in the dorms. I want them to try and enjoy this time.”
Labette will have a meeting with an emergency response team tomorrow to determine courses of action for the entire college. Rolls is hopeful that the school will allow his team to practice and eventually play in the national tournament if the NJCAA is able to hold the event.
“If they come out and say we can continue practicing, we’ll do that,” Rolls said. “Our season and whatever else is going to happen is at the mercy of the virus and how it’s reacted to administratively.
“It’s pretty shocking. Hopefully it’s just another hurdle for us. If we end up having a national tournament, it’s on us to prepare just like it is for everybody else in the country.”
The KJCCC also announced on Thursday that no games would be played by any team of any sport between March 13-April 1.
Labette’s prospects of eventually playing in a national tournament are undoubtedly at the mercy of the coronavirus. But Rolls leaves little doubt in his team’s desire to wait it out and eventually pursue a crown.
“They were upset today,” Rolls said. “There were a couple mad and a couple sad. If we can play, the best thing they can do is stay healthy and corona free. We’re taking preventative measures and they’re being told eat right and sleep right. They want to play.”
KJCCC Commissioner Carl Heinrich said that the conference would leave the decision to compete in a national tournament up to the schools should the NJCAA proceed on its end.
“You have to empower the schools and the presidents to making the best decision that they can make,” Heinrich said. “I would totally back their decision. Our schools that have earned the right to go to the national tournament, that’s a totally independent decision. I’m not going to be in a position to tell them they can’t go.”
Labette Athletic Director Aaron Keal said it’ll be a lengthy process to endure the KJCCC’s stoppage of play and the NJCAA’s postponement before any decisions are ultimately made.
“We have to accomodate all of our student-athletes and all of our students,” Keal said. “They’re two-thirds of the way through their school year. So we have to deal with that as an entire college. It’ll be a uniform process in the weeks to come.”