The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) announced Wednesday afternoon that due to the health risks posed by COVID-19, it will “limit fan attendance at all remaining winter championships: men’s and women’s DI basketball championships, as well as the inaugural men’s and women’s bowling championships.”
NAIA President & CEO Jim Carr added in a press release that championship attendance will be limited to only essential staff and limited family members.
The Westmont women’s basketball team was announced as the NAIA National Tournament’s true No. 1 seed just a few hours before this announcement. The Warriors are set to begin their postseason run on Thursday, March 19.
“I think our team’s theme all year has been girt and gratitude and this situation gong on in the world is concerning and outside our control so I think as much as it’s disappointing it won’t be played in the normal circumstances, it is what it is given the circumstances going on surrounding the world,” Westmont women’s coach Kirsten Moore said.
“One of the ways that you can be gritty through hard things is to control the controllable and there’s a lot, and it will change over the next week, that what we can control and that is what we will focus on. Being the best we could be and supporting one another as we deal with an uncertain situation and just be grateful for the opportunity we have to be together and the tournament ahead and taking it one day at a time. The little things will make the big things happen.”
Kirsten also added that she is thankful for the current technology to date, fans can still share their support for the players through text, email or social media.
The Westmont men’s basketball team also made the National Tournament, garnering a No. 2 seed and will begin play on Wednesday, March 18.
“We prefer to have fans there. There are quite a number of fans who have become supportive of Westmont basketball over the years and we have made the tournament so many years in a row so over the course of time we developed a fanbase in Kanas City. But, I think the NIAA is making a wise choice and airing on the side of precaution. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Westmont men’s coach John Moore told the News-Press over the phone.
Asked how he would try to prepare his team for the bizarre circumstance, Moore said, “I think what you prepare them for is the love of the game.
“And the love of the game is to play with the guys you’ve gone to war with all season long. These guts don’t just like each other they adore each other and they love to play with each other they will enjoy the moment of being there together whether it’s in front of 5000 or no one.”
On top of fan attendance being limited, the NAIA usually hosts special events such as a student banquet the night before the tournament to celebrate the different team’s accomplishment of making it to the National Tournament.
John Moore said all those events have been canceled and said this year “everything will be scaled back,” to the point that the team will likely go straight from the arena to the hotel and the occasional restaurant.
All games will be live-streamed on the NAIA website.
Carr added that “we are aware that many members are concerned about how these extenuating circumstances will affect policies around eligibility and spring competitions.”
The release ended saying that there will be a follow-up to those concerns today.
Originally, the release also said that “current championship events that are ongoing will continue proceeding without fan restrictions, however, the NAIA will consult with state and local officials to change policies if needed” but the NAIA sent another memo about an hour later stating that “circumstances arose after we sent the email earlier tonight that now necessitate fan restrictions at all winter championships, effective tomorrow, March 12.”