Nearly One Year Removed From Abrupt End To 2020 Basketball Tournament, Pac-12 Readies For ‘21 Version

A year ago, the reality of COVID-19’s impact on the sports world was felt during the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas, where the event was shut down midway through competition. This season, organizers has faced another unique set of challenges. (Photo by Ethan Miller)

By Tim Iannello

PHOENIX – When the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament was canceled after the first round last season due to the coronavirus pandemic, the conference had one word to describe the preparation for this year’s event in Las Vegas to happen.

Nimble.

“There’s many crises that can happen and we have to be nimble enough and ready for whatever that is,” Pac-12 Chief Marketing Officer Danette Leighton said.

In March of 2020, the sports world was flipped upside down due to the pandemic. Collegiate and professional league games were canceled.

The Pac-12 women’s tournament finished with Oregon winning the championship before the shutdown of sports, but the men were forced to miss out on their opportunity to win the conference title.

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In 2021, life during a pandemic has evolved and both tournaments are scheduled to take place. The women’s tournament was originally scheduled to start on March 4 and end on March 7. On February 19th, the Pac-12 announced that the women’s tournament schedule has changed so it is now starting on March 3. The schedule was changed to allow teams who had games postponed to make those up.

“A lot of us expressed interest in that,” Arizona State women’s coach Charli Turner Thorne said, “depending where we’re at with the tournament to possibly pick up one more game if we feel that helps our resume.”

The men’s schedule is not being changed because they had time for make-up games before their tournament’s start date. It is set to tip off on March 10th with the championship game planned for March 13th.

To the disappointment of many Pac-12 fans, the general public will not be allowed to attend games, the conference announced Thursday.

Plans are in place to allow family members of the players to attend but the conference is waiting for the OK from Las Vegas officials.

“We’re still waiting for local health authority approval to actually have our families there. That’s our objective,” Leighton said.

Leighton also added that the Pac-12 has received word that this decision may come down to the 11th hour and it is planning accordingly.

If families are allowed to attend the games, they will be seated in physically distanced pods that the schools will place them in, and they will also be required to wear a mask at all times. The number of family members allowed at each game is 100 total, and Leighton doesn’t believe they will even see that many.

The Pac-12 worked closely with its medical advisory board to establish health and safety protocols for the regular season and it plans to continue the use of those protocols for the tournament games.

These guidelines include only traveling with essential staff and restricting who has access to the courts. New guidelines have been added that pertain to the hotel space where the players will be staying.

“All of the teams have very strict guidelines and essentially kind of spaces for them as relates to both from a hotel perspective as well as the arena as well as our practice facility,” Leighton said, “so we put in various enhanced safety protocols, across the living situation in the hotels practice facilities and then operationally at the arena.

Both of ASU’s basketball teams need this tournament to help bolster their resumes for making the NCAA Tournament. The women’s team has a 10-9 record, while the men have had a let down season and are 9-11. Winning the tournament is the best bet for both teams to secure a bid for the NCAA Tournament.

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