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Whitworth’s Sweet 16 game at Swarthmore College to be played without fans due to COVID-19 concerns

UPDATED: Wed., March 11, 2020

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

The Whitworth men’s basketball game this weekend at Swarthmore College will be played without fans in attendance due to concerns over COVID-19 viral disease, officials at the Pennsylvania school announced in a release Wednesday morning.

The Pirates and Garnet are scheduled to play at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Sweet 16 round of the Division III men’s basketball tournament. It will be televised on the Garnet Sports Network.

“My initial reaction was disappointment. I was upset because I know people had already made arrangements, put money down to have plane tickets and get out there,” Pirates coach Damion Jablonski said at Whitworth practice on Wednesday. “But everybody’s in this boat now and so you just gotta roll with it. In the end, it might be an advantage in a certain way. You would be playing in front of probably a hostile crowd, and instead you’re just playing in front of the scorer’s table.”

Junior guard Isaiah Hernandez, who hit the winning shot in the first round last Friday against LeTourneau in Texas, said his family was one of those planning to make the trip to Swarthmore. They canceled the trip in light of the announcement, he said.

“It’s definitely a different situation, pretty strange, but we feel like we can create our own energy,” Hernandez said. “Obviously, during these types of games and tournaments we don’t have a lot of (Whitworth) fans in general anyway, traveling a lot, so we feel like this can be an advantageous situation for us, and we’ll just use our own team energy and play with the same intensity we come with every night.”

Team personnel, credentialed administration and media, as well as gameday staff, will be permitted to attend the game. Any purchased tickets will be refunded, according to the release.

“This was an extremely difficult decision,” the release stated. “While there are no suspected cases of COVID-19 at Swarthmore College, the (pandemic) continues to expand, and the College has a responsibility to act in the best interest of the health and well-being of Swarthmore students, faculty, and staff, as well as the broader community.”

Swarthmore has already extended its spring break until March 20 and plans to hold classes online from then until April 6.

Bowdoin College (in Maine) and the Massachusetts schools Tufts University and Amherst College – which played without fans in attendance last weekend – also announced this week that D-III women’s basketball games at those sites would be closed to spectators.

D-III men’s basketball games last weekend were played at 16 sites around the country – though none on the West Coast, where the novel coronavirus is most prevalent. Games at one of those sites, Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, were closed to fans.

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