WKU athletic director Todd Stewart addressed the media following the cancellation of the Conference USA Tournament and indefinite suspension of all the league’s spring sports Thursday, fielding questions about how the university's athletic department will handle the coronavirus outbreak moving forward.
Stewart was one of the C-USA athletic directors to gather at the league office around 11 a.m. on Thursday to discuss the future of the conference tournament for C-USA men’s and women’s basketball programs, as well as the next steps going forward for other spring sports.
After the meeting, the league announced the cancellation of the C-USA Tournament in the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, and just 58 minutes later, the league also announced the suspension of all spring sport competition until further notice.
“Each of us called our president and had that conversation with our president,” Stewart said. “Then, we all doubled back and it was really the unanimous consensus of everybody that the most prudent thing right now is to just hit the pause button.”
The WKU men’s and women’s basketball programs were already in Frisco, Texas, for the C-USA Tournament, and the WKU softball team was also in the Lone Star State for a three-game road set against preseason favorite North Texas on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
None of those events will take place now, and the programs will return to Bowling Green.
“There’s not really a blueprint right now for this,” Stewart said. “I really think most of the folks in conversation have been in the near term. We’re here in Frisco, what do we do and then what do we do with our spring sports who have games scheduled for some as soon as this week.”
Stewart said there’s not a set date for C-USA athletic competitions to resume, but the league office had “a series of conversations” with the league’s athletic directors and all parties plan to assess the situation and “make future decisions accordingly.”
“It seems like the most prudent thing right now is to suspend spring competition until further notice and not put a date out there,” Stewart said. “Hopefully it’s not suspended for a very long time, but as everybody knows, there’s a lot of unknowns right now.”
Although in-season student athletes at WKU won’t be able to participate in athletic competition against opposing programs for now, they will have the ability to remain on campus during the university’s “extended spring break” and continue practicing with their teams.
“With respect to our athletes, what we will do, anybody that’s still in the middle of their season — softball, baseball, track — they’ll still be [in Bowling Green] and be able to practice as a group, privately,” Stewart said. “But spring football, since they’re not on campus right now, we thought we would just wait and postpone spring practice for another week."
Stewart said it’s up to each campus around the league “to decide what they want to do on their own campus,” and WKU decided to make no definitive decisions beyond next week regarding the start of spring football and the program’s annual Pro Day for NFL scouts.
“I don’t want to get too far ahead right now because we tried not to go too far down the hypothetical road,” Stewart said. “There’s obviously a lot of unknowns.”
With uncertainty growing across the country and COVID-19 rapidly spreading in the United States, Stewart said the league deciding to take immediate action wasn’t a shock to him personally.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised just because of everything that had happened in the last couple of days,” Stewart said. “It’s just been really fast. You know, I think just as little as three days ago, we weren’t really thinking it was going to go this way. It’s just really picked up some steam, so I wasn’t really surprised. but there’s still the disappointing reality of the finale.”
Stewart said residence halls on WKU’s campus will open back up on Sunday morning for students traveling back from spring break. On-campus food services will also be open for student-athletes and any students who choose to return to campus.
Although the university's official response to the COVID-19 pandemic stated “students are encouraged to remain at home,” Stewart said he believes WKU’s campus could be the safest option for some students and student-athletes who are looking to avoid the virus.
“For many students, the safest place for them to be is actually on campus versus going into an area that may not be the best to go to — one that has had illnesses,” Stewart said. “In a number of instances for students and student-athletes, the campus situation is a very safe haven.”
Matt Gadd contributed reporting to this piece.