Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte stands for "The Eyes of Texas" before a Big 12 volleyball match at Gregory Gym Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Football

Texas athletic director comfortable sending athletes into competition over virus fears

Big 12 officials take steps to protect athletes at this week’s men’s, women’s basketball tournaments

Posted March 10th, 2020

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As coronavirus fears grow, Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said Tuesday he’s comfortable sending Longhorns athletes into competition this week because “we’re following every protocol that we know.”

The Texas men’s and women’s basketball teams are headed to Kansas City to compete in the Big 12 tournaments. UT baseball and softball teams have home games this weekend. The Texas Relays and UT’s spring football game are still on — for now.

“We’re following national protocol, but right now, safety is paramount for our students, fans and donors,” Del Conte said Tuesday. “As of today, with the information I’ve gathered, we’re OK to proceed in the way we’re doing.”

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Following the moves made by pro sports leagues, the Big 12 took proactive steps to keep athletes safe. The league announced Tuesday that reporters would not be granted locker room access. All participants will be interviewed from a podium, and reporters will be seated back.

At the Sprint Center, each men’s team has its own assigned locker room. At Municipal Auditorium, some of the women’s teams share locker rooms because the 85-year-old building is smaller.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Big 12 had no plans to keep fans out of the arenas for the tournaments. The UT men play Texas Tech on Thursday. The women play West Virginia on Friday.

The Ivy League announced it would cancel its basketball tournaments over coronavirus. The Yale men and Princeton women, both regular-season champions, would be the team’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournaments. That move prompted NCAA president Mark Emmert to release a statement saying schools and conferences “make their own decisions.”

“Neither the NCAA COVID-19 advisory panel, made up of leading public health and infectious disease experts in America, nor the CDC or local health officials have advised against holding sporting events,” Emmert said in a statement. “In the event circumstances change, we will make decisions accordingly.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a tweet Tuesday that raised questions about next week’s First Four tournament games in Dayton.

“For indoor events, we are asking for no events with spectators other than the athletes, parents, and others essential to the game,” DeWine tweeted. “Right now, outdoor events can continue.”

Fears over COVID-19, a severe respiratory infection, have confounded school administrators. Texas A&M announced classes would be cancelled next Monday and Tuesday to allow for planning. The Aggies are on spring break this week.

Rice cancelled classes this week out of caution. That decision came less than a week after a university employee was one of two Harris County residents who tested positive.

“We’ve been starting to prepare, I’d say for a week or so,” Texas President Gregory L. Fenves told the Statesman on Monday. The Longhorns are scheduled to return to class on March 23. Spring football is scheduled to begin March 24.

The Texas Relays (March 25-28) and the UT spring football game on April 25 are the spring’s two major on-campus outdoor events.

“As far as I know right now, everything is all set to go,” UT track and field coach Edrick Floréal said. “I’m just not an expert. Since I’m not, then I’ve got to trust the people who are experts in making the right decision.”

Austin health officials announced Monday that until May 1, events with 2,500 or more people need to have mitigation plans for infectious diseases. A UT spokesman said city rules do not apply to the campus. However, they were reviewing the city’s guidelines and “developing our own guidelines and mitigation plans for on-campus events.”

Staff Writer Danny Davis contributed to this report.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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