GREENSBORO — Less than two hours after announcing that his conference’s men’s basketball tournament would continue, albiet without fans in the stands, ACC commissioner John Swofford reversed course Thursday morning and canceled the remainder of the event.
It’s the first time in the 66-year history of the conference that the tournament won’t be completed.
The unprecidented move was made over public health concerns associated with the spreading coronavirus crisis and followed the lead of both the NBA and other major conferences that had previously postponed or canceled their seasons or postseason play.
“We’re all dealing with a very fluid and unknown enemy with the coronavirus,” Swofford said to a small group inside Greensboro Coliseum just moments before the scheduled tip-off of a quarterfinal game between regular season conference champion Florida State and Clemson. “We don’t know entirely what that means for the future.
“We have been in constant deliberations and discussions within the Atlantic Coast Conference with our presidents and our athletics directors for weeks. We’ve also been in numerous conversations with appropriate health officials through thi s, trying to make the right decision for our teams, our students, you the fans, to do what’s right as we move forward.”
Swofford had originally announced Thursday that the games — including a quarterfinal matchup between in-state rivals Duke and NC State — would be played as scheduled without fans in the stands as a precaution.
But he added a foretelling warning that the situation was fluid and that the remainder of the tournament could still potentially be canceled if further developments deem that necessary.
Those developments, including the cancellations of tournaments by the SEC and Big Ten, came shortly afterward.
“The most important aspect of this is the safety of fans, anyone associated with this tournament and the greater population,” Swofford said at a press conference prior to the cancelation. “This is something that is much bigger than this tournament. something we haven’t faced in our lifetime.”
In addition to ending the basketball tournament early, the ACC has suspended all other athletic activities — including competition, organized practice, recruiting and participation in NCAA champoinships — until further notice.
Because the tournament will not be completed, Swofford declared top-seeded Florida State the official ACC champion and awarded the Seminoles the trophy in a surreal ceremony at midcourt. FSU will receive the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament if that event is held.
Concerns over the coronavirus, which is spread through human contact and has produced more than 1,200 confirmed cases and 37 deaths nationwide as of Wednesday afternoon, loomed over the ACC Tournament from the beginning.
The ACC and Greensboro Coliseum officials took precautions to prevent spread of illness by installing additional hand sanitizing stations throughout the concourse and wiping down seats after each session.
But the situation began to escalate Wednesday afternoon when the governor of Ohio announced that fans would not be allowed in arenas for next week’s NCAA Tournament games in Dayton and Cleveland.
The NCAA and most conferences, including the ACC, quickly made similar decisions.
“We’ve relied on appropriate help of advisers, whether it’s state, local the CDC or the advisory panel the NCAA has put together, and their advice has changed with some regularity. It’s an extraordinary situation. None of us that are involved in it have ever dealt with anything like it. And hopefully never will again.”