COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - For a little more than 30 minutes, South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner sat with members of the media to discuss where the university’s athletics program stands regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
Tanner held a press conference at 7 p.m. on Friday, which was hours after the Southeastern Conference opted to extend the suspension of all athletic events for members of the league.
“The safety, health, and well-being of our student-athletes, fans, coaches, and staff are the most important responsibility that we have in our athletics department,” Tanner said in his opening remarks. “This COVID-19 issue is a very serious issue for so many people. I pray for those that have been affected and all my blessings go to their families as we move forward and, hopefully, mitigated and eliminated at some point.”
According to Tanner, the SEC has also suspended all recruiting activities both on- and off-campus due to the coronavirus outbreak as well.
The suspension, according to league officials, will now last until at least April 15. It now includes team and individual practices, meetings, and other organized gatherings. The suspension initially announced was set to end on March 30. The proposal was put together by the athletic directors from each member school and unanimously approved by presidents and chancellors within the SEC.
“SEC member institutions will continue to provide their student-athletes with care and support to meet needs in areas including academics, medical care, mental health and wellness, nutrition and housing as needed,” the league said in a statement on Friday.
The SEC has ordered all team meetings to end no later than 5 p.m. on March 16.
“Some of the coaches that I spoke with are really shocked,” Tanner said. “It’s something that we haven’t experienced before and it’s like, ‘What do we do now?’ If you saw this, we first came out that we would be allowed to practice. There would be no games or competition, but you could practice and we quickly got past that. So now, there’s no activity at all. They were surprised, but they wanted to do the right thing and it’s the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to be at home or to vacate.”
This week, the conference also announced the cancellation of all spring championships. For Tanner, the decision was one that caught him and others, including SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, off guard.
“When I saw that [the College World Series would be canceled], I paused,” Tanner said. “I said that’s down the road a piece. Was it necessary to take that action now? It’s the same way I feel about Oklahoma City and the Women’s College World Series. Then I started thinking, where does tennis, golf, and their dates. Did we need to move this quickly? I’m not one to say it was the wrong decision, but my first thought was we’re taking action with the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. That was imminent. They took action. My personal thought was we could have paused and revisited that, the spring sports championships, at another time.”
The extension of this suspension also postpones South Carolina’s spring football practice. Team officials announced Thursday that there would be no practice during the week of March 15-21.
Tanner added that Pro Day for the Gamecocks’ NFL hopefuls has been canceled. However, the Garnet & Black Spring Game scheduled for April 4 has been postponed. Those who have purchased tickets for the spring sporting events will be refunded. More information will be made available at a later date.
Tanner added that one student-athlete has self-quarantined while another student-athlete has been tested. At this point, the results of that test are unknown.