KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A lot has been learned in the year since the 2020 Big 12 Basketball Championships were canceled because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Conference and city leaders said Tuesday that those lessons will help the 2021 Big 12 Championships be successful and safe. The men’s tournament tips off Wednesday evening at T-Mobile Center. The women’s tournament beings Thursday at Municipal Auditorium.
A limited number of fans will be allowed into each venue using virtual tickets. The Kansas City Sports Commission said it also worked closely with the city’s health department to meet other safety requirements for both fans and players. That included reviewing the Big 12 guidelines and protocols.
“That became a weekly phone call. A weekly check-in and even sometimes more often as needed,” Kathy Nelson, President & CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission, said. “They were fantastic to help us read through these guidelines and say ‘that works for our city, what about this idea?’ It was a complicated process.”
The process will continue throughout the Big 12 Basketball Championships. It means the 34 players, coaches, administrators, and trainers traveling with each team will be tested for COVID-19 daily.
“We will continue to do that because that’s what’s required going forward into the NCAA Tournament,” Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 Commissioner, said. “We feel good about the level of testing that’s gone into teams arriving in Kansas City, and that level of testing will go up in anticipation of the NCAA tournament.”
Since this is a multiday tournament, there are additional protocols that will be put in place. Teams will continue to stay within their team bubbles. That means players will not be able to meet with family members who may come to see them play, as they’ve been allowed to do in the past.
“We’re going to do everything we can to maintain social distancing on buses back and forth to the hotel. They are doing likewise as they arrive by airplane, those that fly into Kansas City,” Bowlsby said. “We have intentionally put all of our men’s teams in one hotel facility and all of our women’s teams in another hotel facility. They are generally sequestered there. “
That will become less of an issue as the Big 12 Championships proceed because teams will be eliminated and they will leave Kansas City.
There are still a lot of questions about what would happen if a coach or player tested positive for COVID-19 during the Big 12 Championships, and if it would cause a team to be removed from the bracket. Bowlsby said that’s going to be a case by case basis, and the Big 12 has a plan to handle that issue.
“We would consider the circumstances and assess whether or not we were in a situation where contact tracing might be required,” Bowlsby said. “If we know there’s been isolation and separation and that we’ve followed protocols, it may be possible to just take the student or coach or whoever it is that’s positive, take them out of the environment and move on. It may not be possible to do that on all occasions, but those decisions are going to be made by medical professionals.”
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says he’s confident in the protocols put in place and that the plans will keep everyone safe.
“I think you’ve really seen Kansas City do good work not to try to pack too many people in, not to be reckless, but to work with our partners in the Big 12, the NCAA, to make sure Kansas City is in a position to use some of these outstanding venues,” Lucas said. “I’m very confident, personally as a basketball fan, I’m very confident to see some basketball in person once again. But more than anything I hope this is a sign of a lot of the progress we’ve made, but also the progress we still need to make.”
Fans with tickets to the Big 12 Championships will receive an email with additional information about COVID-19 protocols and changes they will see at each venue.