SEC at odds with NCAA over coronavirus response

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, talks about the decision to cancel the remaining games in the SEC NCAA college basketball tournament Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. The conference tournament was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, talks about the decision to cancel the remaining games in the SEC NCAA college basketball tournament Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. The conference tournament was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

FAYETTEVILLE -- It's too early in the aftermath of the worldwide suspensions and cancellations of sporting events due to the coronavirus outbreak to say whether the NCAA acted too quickly March 12 in suspending all of its championships for the spring semester.

It is not too early to say that the NCAA's announcement Thursday morning not only caught conference commissioners and constituents off guard, it also rankled them.

Various SEC personnel who spoke late last week, including SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner and others did not hide their frustration with the NCAA's lack of communication in the process.

Sankey's remarks on the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum Show on Thursday were not hostile, but they also weren't complimentary.

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After saying there had been plenty of "surprising statement or events" in the previous 36 hours that had made him a bit numb, he added, "[I'm] surprised that we've made a decision now in mid-March to not play baseball or softball national championship events. So I look forward to learning what informed that decision."

Yurachek, following his Friday news conference in which he announced Arkansas was operating in step with the SEC in suspending practices and competition in all sports through April 15, admitted that he was irked with NCAA leadership and its president Mark Emmert.

He reiterated a few times during his news conference how he would have preferred not learning about the NCAA's decision when he landed from his return flight with the men's basketball team from the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

"I don't have a great solution for how that could have been delivered better, but I know there's a better way to deliver that message than for me to find out when I landed back from Nashville yesterday and for our coaches and student-athletes to find out," Yurachek said.

"Again, I'm not saying it was the incorrect decision for our winter sports. We had to make some decisions quickly in regards to the men's and women's basketball tournaments, gymnastics, swimming and diving, indoor track and field, those championships that were imminent. But our spring sports championships that were going to be held in late May and June I don't think that was a decision that had to be delivered yesterday."

Sankey said on the Finebaum show, "I know what's informed our decisions over the last day or so but the news from the NCAA on the basketball tournament and some of the championships happening now but obviously there was a decision to go further."

Tanner, also speaking on the Finebaum show, said Emmert and the NCAA Board of Governors might have had information that SEC officials did not, so he checked.

"I got on the phone and reached out to one of my colleagues at the NCAA office to try to get some insight on why we would make a decision on our spring championships," Tanner said. "I didn't really get any clarity in that situation.

"We have a very [urgent] situation at hand with this virus, so we understand where we are, but I felt that we could let some time elapse before we had to make a decision on what happens later on in the spring or the summer."

Yurachek emphasized at several points the impressive leadership he has seen from Sankey, a contrast to his remarks regarding the NCAA.

"He has been at the forefront of this for us as a conference ... and nationally his conversations and dialogues he's had with our other Power Five conference commissioners. The SEC collectively has made several decisions this week. We have made those together as a conference and value the relationship that we have as member institutions under a difficult and challenging time to be able to work together to come to decisions that are in the best interests of not only the student-athletes and staffs of each of our 14 campuses but across our country."

Yurachek also was asked if the SEC had used any of the intelligence from the NCAA's coronavirus panel to make its decisions.

"I would tell you I believe Commissioner Sankey is using other sources," Yurachek said. "There's not been a great deal of communication, to my knowledge, between conference offices and the NCAA."

Each of the four UA head coaches -- basketball coaches Eric Musselman and Mike Neighbors, football coach Sam Pittman and baseball coach Dave Van Horn -- who issued statements Friday regarding the suspension news that day complimented Sankey on his leadership.

"First I would like to thank SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and our Director of Athletics & Vice Chancellor Hunter Yurachek for their leadership and communication throughout these difficult times," Van Horn said in a university news release.

Emmert has been criticized at various points during his nearly 10 years as NCAA president for various reasons, with inadequate communication ranking among them.

Sports on 03/17/2020

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