Some in SEC Question NCAA's Crisis Communication

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The NCAA's announcement Thursday morning that the COVID-19 situation would force cancellation of championships for the remainder of this academic year caught conference commissioners and constituents off guard and rankled a few in the process.

As reported by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-GazetteSoutheastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey, University of Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek, South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner and others did not hide their frustration with the NCAA's lack of communication.

Speaking on the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum Show on Thursday, Sankey said he was "surprised that we've made a decision now in mid-March to not play baseball or softball national championship events. So I look forward to learning what informed that decision."

He added that he understood why winter sports championships were canceled, "but obviously there was a decision to go further."

Yurachek learned about the NCAA's decision upon landing of the men's basketball team flight from the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.

"I don't have a great solution for how that could have been delivered better," Yurachek said, "but I know there's a better way to deliver that message than for me to find out when I landed back from Nashville yesterday and for our coaches and student-athletes to find out.

"Again, I'm not saying it was the incorrect decision for our winter sports. We had to make some decisions quickly in regards to the men's and women's basketball tournaments, gymnastics, swimming and diving, indoor track and field, those championships that were imminent. But our spring sports championships that were going to be held in late May and June I don't think that was a decision that had to be delivered yesterday."

Tanner, also speaking on the Finebaum show, said NCAA president Mark Emmert and the NCAA Board of Governors might have had information that SEC officials did not, so he checked.

"I got on the phone and reached out to one of my colleagues at the NCAA office to try to get some insight on why we would make a decision on our spring championships," Tanner said. "I didn't really get any clarity in that situation.

"We have a very [urgent] situation at hand with this virus, so we understand where we are, but I felt that we could let some time elapse before we had to make a decision on what happens later on in the spring or the summer."

Yurachek praised Sankey and the SEC at large. "The SEC collectively has made several decisions this week," he said, as reported by the Democrat-Gazette. "We have made those together as a conference and value the relationship that we have as member institutions under a difficult and challenging time to be able to work together to come to decisions that are in the best interests of not only the student-athletes and staffs of each of our 14 campuses but across our country."

Yurachek also was asked if the SEC had used any of the intelligence from the NCAA's coronavirus panel to make its decisions. "I would tell you I believe Commissioner Sankey is using other sources," Yurachek said. "There's not been a great deal of communication, to my knowledge, between conference offices and the NCAA."

On Tuesday, the SEC canceled its spring sports seasons and football spring games. 

“This is a difficult day for all of us, and I am especially disappointed for our student-athletes,” Sankey said in a release by the conference. “The health and well-being of our entire conference community is an ongoing priority for the SEC as we continue to monitor developments and information about the COVID-19 virus.”

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