Dooley: The new normal isn’t

Fans watch a college basketball game between Vanderbilt and Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference tournament Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn. The Southeastern Conference has joined the rest of the Power Five leagues in closing off its men's basketball tournament to fans after Wednesday. The SEC opened its tourney after the NCAA announced that only family and essential personnel would attend its men's and women's tournament games that begin around the country next week. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On the first night of the SEC basketball tournament, a night when the most noise is usually made by squeaking sneakers and four sets of cheerleaders, Bridgestone Arena was filled with fans from every corner of the conference in every corner of the lower bowl.

They knew these games between the conference’s bottom feeders were going to be the last they would have a chance to witness in person.

They heard the news all day as one conference after another decided to keep the fans away for their own good. The decision by the NCAA to play in front of mostly empty stands once the Big Dance starts made it impossible for even the strongest deniers to look the other way.

Eventually, the SEC became the final shoe to drop (minutes after the NBA postponed its season) announcing between games that the fan involvement for the rest of the tournament would be limited to family and essential personnel.

(For some reason, that includes us in the media. I guess those seats at press row are six feet apart.)

None of us really understand what is going on in the world except that we have never seen anything like it. As Georgia coach Tom Crean said and league commissioner Greg Sankey reiterated later, this is for the people with the knowledge who really understand what we’re dealing with here.

The rest of us are left to second guess.

Basketball has never seemed less significant. 

“When I woke up this morning, I did not anticipate being with you here at this moment in this fashion with this news,” Sankey said.

Yeah, but I think a lot of us could see it coming.

This was supposed to be a column about Florida vs. Georgia playing a basketball game today, but the rub is that we don’t know for sure there will be a game. 

There is going to be criticism that the league officials, who were meeting with athletic directors throughout the day, could have been leaders rather than followers.

There certainly could be criticism that even after announcing the fan access will be altered that another game was played with a pretty thick crowd of fans sitting side by side. 

I don’t understand why they are going to try to play basketball Thursday.

Or Friday. Etc.


“I continue to believe it’s important that we give all 14 teams who arrived here in Nashville an opportunity to play for a conference tournament championship, our automatic bid,” Sankey said. 

Sankey pointed to several factors for the decision to limit fan access, including the COVID-19 Advisory Panel, the same group that put the clamps on fan attendance for the NCAA Tournament.

He also pointed out that both Vanderbilt and Florida have turned to online classes and said he expects others to follow suit after their spring breaks.

And the game-changer, the World Health Organization issuing a declaration of a pandemic.

“You could tell our room changed as we saw that information,” said Sankey. 

That information, all of the information, is likely going to get worse before it gets better.

But the league is relying on the local health organizations to determine the severity of the situation in Nashville.

Poor Nashville. This week was supposed to include fundraisers to help the victims of the tornadoes that ripped through here a little more than a week ago killing more than a dozen people.

“That’s obviously been altered,” Sankey said. 

A lot of things have been altered.

This is how weird it was Wednesday. When Crean and two of his players came to the podium 15 minutes after beating Ole Miss, they didn’t know about the decision to keep the fans out for the rest of the tournament.

“We’ll adjust,” he said. “In this world, that’s the new normal.”

I don’t know.

There doesnn’t seem to be much normal about anything.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. “I continue to believe it’s important that we give all 14 teams who arrived here in Nashville an opportunity to play for a conference tournament championship, our automatic bid,”
    -SEC’s, Sankey said.
    And I agree with him. This is the basketball teams’ bowl games, and their post season. Perhaps we’ll find out we have overreacted, or perhaps people will get sick who play and attend. But young people are NOT DYING from this flu like illness. It’s the older Americans. So stay home older folks, and watch it on TV.
    “Improvise, adapt, overcome!” GO GATORS! New season starts today, make it special!

  2. “The decision by the NCAA to play in front of mostly empty stands once the Big Dance starts made it impossible for even the strongest deniers to look the other way.” Let me get this straight…the NCAA, which has trouble getting anything right, is now the final authority on whether or not we should stop living our lives and hide ourselves from an enemy that has yet to be shown to pose any real threat to healthy adults.

    On September 11, 2001, about 3,000 people lost their lives in the most heinous terrorist attack ever on American soil and one of the worst in world history. We were told to live our lives and not let the terrorists win, because the individual threat was low. That was after 3,000 were dead. Now, in the face of an enemy that seems to only be a serious threat to the elderly, sickly, and the very young, we’re asked to tuck and run, for our own good, until “they” say it’s safe to come out.

    Liberal politicians and media, in their own arrogance, simply can’t help themselves when it comes to meddling in order to protect us from ourselves. Now the NCAA, as a complicit dupe, has joined them. I have no problem with taking personal precautions and self quarantining when appropriate, however, since there are normally few elderly, sickly, and toddlers at NCAA tournament games, this move, imo, is a hysterical overreaction to protect the supposed “ignorant masses” from an unproven threat that the liberals are certain we can’t recognize for ourselves. They’ve turned March Madness into March Sadness.

    Sorry for the political reference, Arnold. I tried to be generic, but perhaps still went too far. However, I’m choosing not to delete anything before submitting my comment. Just one Gator fan’s opinion. Go Gators!!!

    • Trump canceled travel. Italy, China countless countries and organizations (NBA NCAA MLB) and industries (travel, Nancy DeVos beloved private schools) quarantine infected people and it’s the Liberals’ fault? Dr. Drew (Dr. and supposed Hollywood elite) said we are over reacting…he’s a liberal.

      Liberals fault?

      I don’t see Fox News staying away from the media fear mongering passion they spew by the second, minute, hour, day, week, month year, decade e…t….c….

      • Sam, I don’t disagree that the entire media, all stripes included, has covered this thing to death. I’ve insulated myself a bit from news coverage over the past few years, but it seems to me the tenor of Fox News is shifting leftward (not liberal, but moving more in that direction) and the conservative viewpoint is certainly underrepresented. It seems to me to be an undeniable truth that liberals are more likely to seek to protect what they deem to be a less-than-well-informed public from itself. Imho, this is one of those instances.

        I always enjoy your posts, and I appreciate your position, even when it differs from mine. I hope and our fellow readers won’t be too upset by our little foray into politics, which I admit to starting. I’ll hush now and stick to commenting about hoops, because at least they are playing the games. March Madness, imo, is the greatest event in all of sports, and although the lack of fans could change game results due to fan support equity, the games are still there for us to watch. Go Gators and God bless America!!!

        • Sly, if you are reading this during your hiatus, my apologies for posting something I’m sure you’d want to comment on. Agree or not, I appreciate your comments and look forward to the end of your self-imposed hiatus. Take care, Gator.

          • Well, I was on a self imposed sans sports hiatus but looks like it is no longer by choice. I think most everyone will be joining me but probably not by choice.

            Joe, I’m flattered that you would want to hear my thoughts on the issue but I’m probably not a good source for anything medically related. I saw this informative video from the CDC/TEDx Talks on virus propagation and response that may be of interest:


            Since there are no sports to speak of, perhaps Arnold will indulge me as I lightly tread into politics:

            1. Every organization in general, whether public or private, is led by politicians. They are great at making compromises but not necessarily at doing the right thing. That is not to say that they don’t want to do the right thing but politics and alliances often interfere with good judgement and prevail when faced with tough choices.

            2. Leaders tend to be reactionary rather than visionary when it comes to crisis response. They will throw seemingly unlimited money at the problem once it occurs but spend very little to prevent or contain it in the first place.

            3. Organizations with deep pockets will take extraordinary steps to protect itself from crippling class-action lawsuits but use their enormous resources to bully individuals to go along with questionable practices.

            4. The government want to calm the masses from panicking during a crisis. As such, they may withhold information or put a positive spin on things when the cat is out of the bag. I believe things are a lot worse than they publicly admit. Read into what they do, not what they say for clues. The number of infected cases is relatively small at this point but if you look at a plot, I’m sure you will find the growth is exponential. Comparing the flu to COVID-19 is like comparing apples and oranges. With the flu, there is a vaccine and testing is readily available; it is not rationed due to limited supply. High risk groups are routinely vaccinated. Since there is no vaccine for COVID-19, it is much more difficult, if not impossible to contain it. Plus, there is little historical data that COVID-19 infections will recede during the warmer months like the flu.

            5. I think we should listen to Bill Gates. If Warren Buffet goes to him for advice on the virus, that’s a pretty good endorsement. His decision to relinquish his positions at Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway to concentrate mainly on the virus through his foundation speaks volumes. Perhaps he should lead the government’s response efforts.


            6. If you disagree, call it fake news and blame the media, the other political party, and/or give someone an unflattering adjective before their name.

        • Republicans or Democrats I still love you Joe!!!

          They only have Football and Horse Racing in Turkey. :(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(

          Can you tell I am sad.

          P.S. My bad they do have Basketball, but it doesn’t seem like any bar or channels shows their games…….Football, Football, Football and not the Cool AXX American kind. (:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:((:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:((:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:((:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:((:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:((:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(