Southeastern Conference athletics are on hold and may not return for some time.
The conference announced Thursday morning that not only has the remainder of SEC men's basketball tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, been cancelled, but that conference championships and regular-season competition for teams in all sports on SEC campuses have been suspended until at least March 30.
That includes the SEC championships for equestrian and gymnastics, and regular-season contests for baseball, softball and tennis, among others.
"There's no list for any of this. I have an undergraduate degree, a Masters degree from Syracuse — this was never in one of my Masters classes," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Thursday morning of the decision. "(This is) reality. We're learning. We're making the best decisions on the best available information."
That's in addition to the NCAA's decision later Thursday to cancel all remaining Division I men's and women's 2020 championship events through the end of the current school year, including next week's NCAA men's and women's basketball national tournaments but also involving the following sports: baseball, softball, golf, track and field, tennis, lacrosse, and rowing. That means no College World Series or Women's College World Series, both of which are traditionally held in late May and early June.
"(I'm) surprised that we've made the decision now in mid-March to not play softball or baseball national championships, so I look forward to learning what informed that decision," Sankey said later Thursday on the Paul Finebaum Show on the SEC Network. "I know what's informed our decisions over the last day and a half, but the news from the NCAA, we were waiting on (news about) the basketball tournaments and the championships happening now, but obviously there was a decision to go further."
Speaking to reporters midday Thursday, Sankey also left open the possibility that the conference could extend the window for suspended activities past the end of March: "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."
The move to suspend all on-campus athletic activities through March 30 came shortly after the league announced the cancellation of the final four days of the SEC men's basketball tournament, roughly an hour before Alabama and Tennessee were slated to open Day 2 of the event at noon Thursday.
The decision was made based on the latest developments in the spread of COVID-19, which the World Health Organization has classified as a global pandemic.
"To our fans, I know there will be a great deal of frustration. There was last night a lot of bewilderment," Sankey said. "We have a public health situation in this country and across the globe that is emerging. I'm not an epidemiologist. I'm not a researcher in immunology or infectious disease, but those who are engaged at the NCAA level provided some stark information yesterday that guided the NCAA to close its tournament to public attendance. That then guided us."
It is not yet clear what that means for spring football. Alabama is scheduled to begin practicing on Friday, and Auburn on Monday.
Both universities announced later Thursday that they would transition to online-only or alternative instruction through the first week of April. Alabama, which also extended its spring break beginning Saturday through March 24, announced it would re-evaluate its plan for future in-person instruction on or before April 6, while Auburn announced it is transitioning to online classes, closing residence halls and cancelling all sporting events through April 10.