No fans allowed at Summit League Championships

Andrew Holtan/Register: South Dakota State’s Haley Greer goes up for a shot during a game against Iowa State Nov. 28 at Frost Arena in Brookings. The Summit League announced Thursday there will be no fans at the Summit League Championships.

SIOUX FALLS – The Summit League Basketball Championships have been played in Sioux Falls for the past 12 seasons. In 2021, they will be played once again in Sioux Falls, but this time it will be different.

The Summit League announced Thursday morning that the Championships will have no fans in attendance and they will be played at the Sanford Pentagon.

“As the Summit League’s Commissioner, I never imagined that the League would be making an announcement like this one,” said Summit League Commisioner Tom Douple. “It is with deep disappointment, yet an equally deep amount of conviction that we came to this conclusion because the health, safety, and welfare of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, fans, and the Sioux Falls community remain our highest priorities.
“This decision was not made lightly, knowing that fan attendance has been a key driving force in raising interest in the Summit League Basketball Championships. However, after a review of the current environment and the potential impact of bringing 16 teams and all their constituents into one site, it became a necessary decision.”

The events were scheduled to take place March 6-9 at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, where the they have taken place for the past six seasons. The games will still be played March 6-9 and all 14 games will televised on MidcoSN and ESPN linear and digital platforms. Duple said the change of venue was to ensure that all tournament operations could be performed under one roof.

“In a multi-team event like our championships, one positive test along with contact tracing requirements has the potential to eliminate several teams from moving forward and mitigating those risks was paramount in the decision-making process,” Douple said. “Our medical consultants and Presidents Council concluded that every step possible should be taken to help mitigate exposure to the virus for everyone involved. Unfortunately, these measures included some tough decisions. And, while we cannot eliminate all concerns, it is imperative to take every precaution to temper and reduce these risks as much as possible.”

The South Dakota State men’s and women’s basketball teams kicked off Summit League play this past weekend and both came away with a two-game sweep of Western Illinois. The men and women were both scheduled to play back-to-back games at Omaha today and tomorrow.

The men’s games were canceled due to COVID issues with Omaha, but the women are still set to play with tip off for each game scheduled for 3 p.m. SDSU’s men’s head coach Eric Henderson said his team tried to find a game for this weekend, but nothing came about.

The Jacks usually have the most fans during the Summit League Championships and have used it to their advantage. The SDSU men and women have combined to win 14 Summit League Championships. Henderson said he feels bad for Jackrabbit fans because they won’t be able to be along for the ride this year.

“Obviously really I just feel bad for our fans, but at the same token I feel thankful that were still able to play. I know how much it means to our guys to have our fans around and have them be part of our team, but still thankful we are able to play and thankful for the Summit League to think of different options to help us play. Just thankful that we’re still able to have [the Championships],” Henderson said.

He added having no fans will help other teams more than his team, but it will still come down to the play on the court.

“I think it affects us more than anybody else, with the following we get down [in Sioux Falls],” Henderson said. “But at the end of the day you still need to take care of business on the court and the team that is playing well at that time and a few of the breaks go their way, that’s usually who ends up representing the Summit League in the NCAA Tournament. That’s really how I feel.”

SDSU has already played six games at the Sanford Pentagon in front of no fans this season. The Jacks went 1-2 in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic to open up the season and went 2-1 in the CU Mortgage Direct Dakota Showcase in December. Henderson said playing six games at the Pentagon may not give the Jacks an advantage, but it certainly does not hurt.

“I think the comfortably that we have of playing at the Pentagon and especially this year, we’re going to hopefully use that to our advantage. It is a unique place to play and a special place to play, but having played there six times already doesn’t hurt,” Henderson said.

The SDSU women are in second place in the Summit League with an overall record of 9-2 and 2-0 in the Summit League. They sit behind in-state rival South Dakota who is 8-3 overall, but 4-0 in the conference. The men are in second place as well in the conference, but have the best overall record at 8-3. North Dakota State and South Dakota are tied for first and are both 6-6 overall and 4-0 in league play.

The Jackrabbit men and women will be back at Frost Arena Jan. 22 and 23 and will face North Dakota. The women’s games are set to start at 5 p.m. and the men will start at 7:30 p.m.

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