As NCAA announces limits to attendance at tournaments, how will coronavirus precautions affect Southern Utah sports?

File photo from 2018 DSU homecoming game, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — With the new coronavirus spreading and Utah’s third case being confirmed by health officials Wednesday, many are wondering how athletic events at the high school and collegiate level will be affected in Southern Utah and beyond.

Colorado Mesa at Dixie State, St. George, Utah, March 7, 2020 | File photo by Ryne Williams, St. George News

With numerous professional sporting leagues limiting media access to locker rooms and some college conferences taking action, COVID-19 is having an impact on sports around the nation.

The biggest news came Wednesday afternoon as the NCAA released a statement announcing that all championship events, including men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Divisions I, II and II, will be played with only essential personnel and limited family in attendance.

“The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “Based on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA Board of Governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance.

“While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States. This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”

Dixie State Athletic Director Jason Boothe confirmed that the Trailblazers will be leaving for Texas on Thursday morning to take part in the South Central Regional Tournament where games will be played with limited attendance as a result of the NCAA’s decision. Eight teams from the south central region will meet to start the national tournament.

SUU’s Cam Oluyitan, who scored 22 points in the first half, Southern Utah University vs. Northern Arizona, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 16, 2020 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“It’s going to be weird not playing in front of fans,” Boothe said, “but at least we’ll get the games in, given the situation. I’m sure there are parents and families of players that will be affected.”

Boothe doesn’t foresee the NCAA cancelling any of the games, but he said it’s a fluid situation.

Southern Utah University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are both in Boise this week for the Big Sky conference tournament.

Bryson Lester, the assistant athletic director for communications and marketing at SUU, said the teams are following recommendations from the university, the Big Sky conference and the NCAA. They plan on making decisions based on the governing bodies.

At the high school level, Washington County School District Communications Director Steve Dunham said the district is not planning to cancel events.

Dixie vs Sky View at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah, Feb. 29, 2020 | File photo by Jeff RIchards, St. George News

“We’re working closely with the Southwest Utah Health Department, and they have been clear that it would be very rare, if at all, that they would recommend cancellation of school or any public events,” Dunham said.

Utah High School Activities Association Assistant Director Jon Oglesby told St. George News the association is acting on guidance from state officials but that the decision-making is up to the districts. He said no schools have yet to reach out to the UHSAA with regard to cancelling games but they will provide help to the districts based on state and CDC recommendations.

In California, multiple high school basketball teams in the San Francisco area have been pulled out of the state basketball tournament because of COVID-19 cases that have arisen at the schools, including the No. 1 seeded team in Division I boys basketball — Archbishop Riordan, according to a San Jose Mercury News report.

The spread of the virus and its impact on local sporting events is a developing story.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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