First no fans, now no games as SEC and LSU cancel sports through March 30
BATON ROUGE — The bus was all packed up with nowhere to go.
10:45 a.m.: LSU baseball players and managers are loading bags and equipment into the team bus bound outside Alex Box Stadium for Oxford, Mississippi, on Thursday morning to play a three-game series at No. 5 Ole Miss at 11,477-seat Swayze Field to open Southeastern Conference play Friday night.
10:55 a.m.: I text Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco to ask him if he can call me later for a feature on his son Drew, who plays left field for LSU. He was supposed to call Wednesday night, but he was summoned to a sudden teleconference to find out that fans would not be allowed at the LSU-Ole Miss games because of the coronavirus. But the games — at that point — were still on.
"Sorry Glenn. A lot going on here," Bianco texted back. "We practice today at 1 p.m. I will call you when I can."
10:59 a.m.: Word spreads through Alex Box that the SEC men's basketball tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, has been canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus. LSU's No. 3 seeded basketball team was to play at 8:30 p.m. Friday night in the quarterfinal round after receiving two byes as one of the top four finishers in the league. Will the baseball games be canceled, too?
11:13 a.m.: A manager tells LSU players to "remove your bags and report to a team meeting."
11:14 a.m.: I text Bianco. "Are games still on?"
11:15 a.m.: "No," texts Bianco.
11:20 a.m.: LSU baseball sports information director Bill Franques meets with LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri and returns to confirm to reporters that all SEC athletic events have been suspended through March 30 because of the virus as the SEC office relays the same news.
Mainieri later meets with reporters.
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"Craziest time of my life, I can tell you that," he says. "Certainly of my professional life. I wish I had a lot of answers. All I know is we're not going to Oxford today, and we're not going to play baseball for the next three weeks at least. There has been a moratorium on any sporting events in the SEC through March 30 at this point. Perhaps longer, who knows?"
The Tigers beat South Alabama, 4-1, Wednesday night in Alex Box Stadium in their last game until possibly Tuesday, March 31, when LSU is scheduled to host Louisiana-Monroe at 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. From April 2-4, defending national champion Vanderbilt is scheduled to play at LSU.
The No. 19 Tigers (12-5) had won five straight. No. 5 Ole Miss (16-1) had won 16 straight. No. 1 Florida (16-1) was set to open a three-game series as well at No. 2 Georgia (14-4).
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"You're getting excited about the start of the SEC schedule, and then the rug gets pulled out from under you," Mainieri said. "But perspective is so important, and that's what I explained to the players. All you have to do is look over your shoulder and see that there are a lot more people in worse conditions than we are."
The Tigers were going to host Texas Southern on Wednesday as Mainieri had switched out St. Thomas University, which is located in Miami, to save them the trip for a game without fans. On Wednesday, the SEC's first ruling was to continue with games, but without fans. That changed quickly Thursday morning as the NBA suspended its regular season indefinitely Wednesday night after a player contracted the virus.
First, no fans. Now, no games.
"I can't tell you I'm surprised," Mainieri said. "At some point, we knew this was going to happen, especially after what happened in the NBA. The most important word is perspective."
LSU was to open its home SEC baseball season a week from Friday against No. 17 and rival Mississippi State (11-4). The No. 5 LSU softball team was to open SEC play this weekend at No. 16 South Carolina (17-6). The No. 5 LSU gymnastics team was to host No. 21 Arizona State on Friday night.
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LSU's athletic department announced that it will be in contact with impacted ticket holders for baseball, softball and gymnastics events now suspended about possible refunds or other plans.
"Obviously, there are bigger issues in the world, and we're citizens of the world," Mainieri said. "And somehow the world has to come to grips with what we're dealing with. You can only pray and hope that somehow it gets under control in a relative time before so many people have lost their lives."
LSU and other teams will be allowed to practice and have squad scrimmages until, or if games are rescheduled and/or the remainder of the schedule picked up.
"But we have a lot more problems to worry about," Mainieri said, "than whether we're playing college baseball."