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SEC, SWAC, C-USA and MACJC all put sports on hiatus

The sports world is shutting down for a while.

The Southeastern Conference, Conference USA and Southwestern Athletic Conference — as well as a dozen other Division I leagues — all announced Thursday that they have canceled their men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and will suspend regular-season competition until at least the end of March.

The Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges followed suit later in the day, and the NCAA dropped the biggest bombshell of all when it canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments as well as all winter and spring sports championships — including the baseball and softball College World Series in June.

The moves were made about concerns over the spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus, which has infected more than 1,300 people nationwide and caused 39 deaths.

“I don’t have all of the answers. I told my staff I don’t know is a perfectly good answer from time to time,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said at a news conference in Nashville, site of the league’s men’s basketball tournament. “It can’t just be I don’t know. You’re going to have to do the work to engage and learn how to answer the question eventually. So we’ve created an interim period where we will work with our campuses to determine how we return to our normal operation. It may not be March 30. It may be beyond. But that remains to be seen. We’ve identified a time frame where we can engage in conversation and in decision-making.”

The SWAC announced it is suspending play until March 31. Conference USA did not announce a possible return date. The MACJC canceled all practices and games through March 30.

Sankey said the SEC is canceling its equestrian and gymnastics championships, which were both scheduled for this month. All other on-campus sports events in the league are suspended until at least March 30.

With the NCAA’s decision not to hold the spring sports championships, it was not immediately clear whether its leagues would eventually resume their spring seasons. Besides baseball and softball, golf, tennis and track and field are all contested in the spring.

“That March 30th date gives us an opportunity to take a step back from a rather intense 24, 36 hours and consider the direction with the remainder of the spring as scheduled or any adjustments. Right now that March 30 date has the most importance, I think, as a milestone,” Sankey said.

Sankey added that he wasn’t sure whether spring football practice and games would continue as scheduled. He said that decision is largely governed by the SEC’s individual member schools — many of which have canceled classes and sent students home.

“We’ve limited the size clearly of on-campus events, and campuses are doing that individually, but I don’t have a prescriptive list right now around what’s going to happen with spring practice, spring football,” Sankey said.

Not everyone was going on hiatus. Mississippi College announced Thursday that it will continue to play spring events with attendance limited to four family members or friends on an official pass list. There will be no admission for anyone not on the list, with no exceptions.

The Gulf South Conference, to which Mississippi College and Delta State belong, will make a decision Friday about whether to continue its spring sports seasons.

Millsaps College will follow a similar policy beginning for a weekend baseball series against Berry College. The teams will play a doubleheader Friday at noon at Millsaps’ Twenty Field, and a single game Saturday at 11 a.m. No spectators will be allowed in. Attendance will be limited to the players, coaches, event staff, and essential personnel.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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