The Southland Conference announced on Wednesday that the postseason basketball tournament played at the Merrell Center in Katy will be played with limited attendance following an announcement from the NCAA, due to precautions related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Beginning with Thursday's women's first round and men's second round games, arena entry will be restricted to participating teams, game officials, tournament staff, spirit groups (at each institution's discretion), credentialed media, other support personnel, and family members included on the team's official pass list. There will be no entry allowed for ticket holders and no opportunity to purchase tickets at the Merrell Center. In the near future, the Southland and its member institutions will provide a refund policy to fans who have purchased tickets.
"While this announcement creates considerable inconvenience for many fans, these measures are being taken with the health and well-being of the tournament's participants in mind, including student-athletes and coaches," Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett said. "This is of the utmost importance as we're seeing similar issues across the country with other sporting events, including the NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Championships in the coming weeks. The Southland will continue monitor and to take necessary precautions through the weeks ahead as other competition and championship events are scheduled."
Thursday night the Bearkat men will play the winner of the Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Northwestern State game at 5 p.m. Friday at 11 a.m. the women are scheduled to play the winner of New Orleans and Southeastern Louisiana.
"We understand this was a difficult decision made by our league office and all conference universities. We appreciate Tom Burnett and John Williams for quickly leading the conference to a decision following the announcement by the NCAA."
All games of the Southland Tournament are being televised as scheduled, with all preliminary contests being shown live on ESPN+. Saturday's men's championship game will be shown live on ESPN2 at 8:30 p.m. Central, while Sunday's women's title game will be shown live on CBS Sports Network at 1 p.m. Central.
NCAA President Mark Emmert announced Wednesday that the NCAA's upcoming championship events, including the Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments, will be played with only essential staff and limited family attendance.
"The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel," Emmert said in a statement. "While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision i based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States.
"This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families," Emmert said.
Selection Sunday is scheduled for Sunday, March 15, with the First Four in Dayton set for March 17-18. The first round of the NCAA men's tournament is Thursday, March 19. The women's begins on Friday, March 20.