INDIANAPOLIS — The games will go on, for now at least, but with a limited number of spectators.
On Thursday, the IHSAA announced that all remaining games of the State Tournament will continue as scheduled, but in front of only essential staff and immediate family in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
“It’s going to be extremely disappointing to a lot of our patrons and fans to not be able to go to the state championships, but we do need to protect everybody,” IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox said at a news conference. “These are unprecedented measures and we’re sympathetic to our loyal fans. ... We appreciate your understanding and support during these challenging times.”
For the remaining games (i.e. regional, semistate and State Finals rounds), each participating school will be allotted 75 tickets for “only essential personnel, coaches, administrative staff and immediate family of players.” No cheerleaders, pep bands, dance teams or spirit groups will be allowed to attend.
“It is a little bit disappointing because it’s regionals and you’d expect there to be a pretty big crowd there with a lot of energy. But we’ve just got to deal with the cards that have been given,” said Providence senior guard Sterling Huber, whose team is scheduled to face South Spencer at 11 a.m. Saturday morning in the first semifinal of the Class 2A Southridge Regional.
According to Cox the IHSAA had been “monitoring this situation for quite some time, even before the sectionals began.”
“[But] throughout the last 48 hours, things have changed,” he said. “Things in our community have changed, and things around the state have changed, things around the country have changed. So we’re trying to stay up with that. We still want to provide our young people an opportunity to participate in the State Finals in a tournament series event, but we do have to restrict it. It’s an ongoing process, but that’s where we are today.”
Cox said the IHSAA debated, but decided against, canceling the remainder of the State Tournament.
“We discussed that as a staff and we’ve decided at this point that’s not the direction we’re going to go,” he said. “It could very well [happen]. If we receive different information from the department of health, or other health organizations, we may make a determination that we need to do something different.”
Cox indicated that the Indiana Department of Health had not yet had any reported cases of coronavirus in 15 of the 16 counties scheduled to host regional games Saturday, so it was decided to continue play.
“I feel pretty comfortable about the regionals,” he said. “This may change moving forward, but that’s where we are today and we’re going to contest the regional under these conditions.”
He acknowledged, however, that it will likely be difficult for the participants.
“Kids like to play in front of people. I think it will impact the game, it’ll feel like a scrimmage,” Cox said. “You’re going to have three officials out there, and you’re going to have two teams sitting on the bench, but they’re not going to be many people in the gym. I think it’ll affect play, I don’t think there’s any doubt that it will affect play, but at least they’re getting to play right now.”
Added Huber: “I think it’s going to be pretty unusual because we’re pretty used to playing in front of decently large crowds. I know the gym holds like 6,000 people, so it’s going to look pretty weird. We just have to bring our energy and just keep talking like we always have and I think we’ll be fine.”
The future, however, remains up in the air.
“If we can get through this week and we feel confident that we can move forward we’ll do the semistate the same way,” Cox said. “We’ll have 75 approved individuals that will come into the event arena and will follow their team.”
Cox said that the IHSAA will “make every attempt to stream and/or broadcast each remaining game prior to the state finals,” which are scheduled to be broadcast by Fox Sports Indiana.
According to Cox, regional tickets can be returned for a refund at the point of purchase. The IHSAA, meanwhile, will refund all tickets already purchased for the State Finals.
At Thursday’s news conference Cox estimated that the decision to limit the number of spectators for the remainder of the tournament will likely cost the IHSAA “about a half a million dollars.”
Individuals who are at higher risk for the disease, as defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), are strongly encouraged to refrain from attendance. This includes older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. However Cox cautioned anyone feeling ill to refrain from attending games.
“I think everybody needs to take a little cursor of themselves, not only elderly, but anybody who’s been under the weather or doesn’t feel well, they probably need to just stay home,” he said.