LSU’s baseball team, like its team bus, sat in idle Thursday as the SEC cancelled all sporting events until March 30

LSU's baseball team bus sat empty after its trip to Ole Miss was cancelled late Thursday morning when the SEC called off all sporting events through March 30 because of the widening coronavirus outbreak. PHOTO BY Ron Higgins

The team bus was idling outside of gate one at Alex Box Stadium.

The cargo doors were open, waiting for luggage and equipment.

The birds living in the stadium were chirping.

The sun was shining, the temperatures in the mid-70s screamed the first SEC baseball weekend of the 2020 season was definitely a day away.

Until it wasn’t.

LSU baseball team was 45 minutes from boarding the team bus Thursday afternoon at 12 noon for a trip to No. 5 Ole Miss for a three-game series starting Friday night when SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced the league was suspending all athletic events through March 30 due to the worldwide pandemic of the coronavirus.

“It’s the craziest time in my life, certainly my professional life,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said as his players filed past him heading to their cars having been given the rest of the day off. “All I know is we’re not going to Oxford today and we’re not going to play baseball for the next three weeks at least.”

Sankey made the announcement from Nashville where he also canceled the final 11 games of the league’s men basketball tournament.

The presidents and athletic directors already decided during Wednesday night’s first two tourney games that the remainder of the tournament and all SEC sporting events through March 30 would be played with only essential staff, limited family and credentialed media in attendance.

Then, Sankey took it one step further after other Power 5 conferences such as the Big 12 and Big Ten cancelled the remainder of their league tourneys and then all athletic events until the end of the month.

“I’ve not had a situation as difficult and emotional as this one to make a recommendation to our presidents and chancellors that we cancel the remainder of our men’s basketball tournament,” Sankey said at a news conference Thursday morning in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena where the league tourney was being staged. “It was a moment where I had to stop and actually catch myself and recompose myself.

“When we made the decision, we had some succeeding decisions to be made. So, first was the cancellation of the remainder of the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, which then raises the question what do you do with regular season competition? All regular season competition involving SEC teams with one exception I’ll speak of has been suspended through March 30. That one exception is NCAA Championship events that may be conducted, which will be subject to NCAA authority from a participation standpoint and institutional decision-making.”

Later Thursday afternoon, the NCAA canceled its remaining 16 winter and spring national championship events, including the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments that were scheduled to start next week.

Sankey wasn’t happy with the NCAA’s quick cancellation of the baseball and softball championships that take place in mid-June.

“Surprised that we’ve made a decision now in mid-March not to play baseball or softball national championships,” Sankey said on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show. “So I look forward to hearing what informed that decision.”

Eleven LSU sports programs – seven women’s teams and four men’s teams – will have a combined 49 events cancelled including 26 scheduled at home.

Baseball and softball have 11 games each canceled, with five in Alex Box Stadium for Mainieri’s baseball squad and eight in the LSU Softball Park for Beth Torina’s softballers.

The LSU Athletics Ticket Office will be in contact with impacted ticket holders for gymnastics, baseball and softball. LSU athletics officials are asking for patience as they work through this unprecedented situation with fans.

In meantime, Mainieri and his coaching staff will put together plans to continue practicing and holding intrasquad scrimmages.

Apparently, all sports teams in programs are being allowed to practice, especially football. LSU started spring practice last Saturday.

But while noting that he was disappointed for his team not getting a chance to play for at least three weeks, Mainieri emphasized to his squad in a team meeting Thursday the gravity of the situation.

“Perspective is so important, and that’s what I explained to the players,” Mainieri said. “All you have to do is look over your shoulder and see there’s a lot more people that are in worst conditions than we are having baseball games cancelled.

“I feel for these kids and I feel for everybody who has put in so much work. Obviously, there are bigger issues in the world and we’re citizens of the world, somehow the world has to come to grips with what we’re dealing with. You only pray and hope it somehow gets under control in relative time before too many people have lost their lives.”

Mainieri said after the NBA suspended play Wednesday night when Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus, he wasn’t surprised with Thursday’s decision by the SEC.

“I figured if they do it in the NBA, they certainly can do it in college,” Mainieri said. “I didn’t know when it might happen, but I figured it would take just one baseball player in the SEC to be diagnosed and then they would shut it down.

“I don’t know if anybody had been diagnosed, but they are doing this in a proactive way. I totally support the powers that be and the decisions they make.”

Sankey said he couldn’t guarantee events for SEC schools would resume after the March 30 date.

“We’ve created an interim period where we will work with our campuses to determine how we return to our normal operation,” Sankey said. “It may not be March 30. It may be beyond. But that remains to be seen. We’ve identified a time frame where we can engage in conversation and in decision-making.”

Meanwhile, Mainieri, like so many other college coaches in various sports around the nation, are trying to adapt to a borderline panic situation.

“I’m in a state of shock as a 62-year old coach who has been in the business for 38 years,” Mainieri said. “This is a crisis unprecedented in my lifetime and it needs to get under control. The impact is so dramatic you can’t even begin the ways its affecting society.

“Tough times aren’t going to last. We’re going to get back to normalcy, God willing, and the Box will be hopping again. I just don’t know when.”

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Ron Higgins

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