Texas dropped a mask mandate two weeks before five of the cities in the state are scheduled to host NCAA basketball tournaments.
The Women's NCAA Tournament and men's NIT tournament are both scheduled to take place exclusively in Texas as part of centralized tournament plan devised by the NCAA to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision of Gov. Greg Abbott, effective March 10, sent the NCAA into damage control mode as teams and players look for assurances medical protocol will be in place for the safety of the tournament's participants.
All 63 games of the women's tournament will be held in Texas.
The NIT is scheduled to be played in Texas -- Dallas and Fort Worth -- starting March 17.
"I don't know what that [the rule change] does as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said a video call Thursday. "I don't know that we'll be interacting with anybody that's not part of the NCAA basketball community, so I'd probably be much more concerned if we had to interact with the general public, but we don't. I'm sure every precaution will be taken to make sure our athletes and coaches and staff and administrators are safe."
The NCAA released a statement in response to the order but did not specify whether masks would be required for players and staff.
"Protecting the health and safety of participants and fans during NCAA championships remains the NCAA's priority," the statement read. "In preparation for the 2021 Division I Women's Basketball Championship, the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), as well as other championships, the NCAA has monitored ongoing COVID-19 developments in all states since the onset of the pandemic. We will continue to work closely with local medial authorities, the NCAA Covid-19 Medical Advisory Group, and CDC guidelines to determine the appropriate health and safety protocols for our events."
Early rounds of the women's tournament are being hosted by San Antonio, Austin and San Marcos and the regional semifinals, finals and Final Four are scheduled to be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been an outspoken critic of the decision to open the state.
"It's a mystifying decision," Popovich said. "When all of a sudden we act like it's over with, and all of the science tells us the opposite, you're basically saying, 'You get infected and you die? That's the way it goes. We gotta open up!' That's not the way to do it. This is really ridiculous."
Local governments are determining their level of compliance with the "opening" of Texas. In San Antonio, the mayor said the mask mandate remains in place at city facilities, which includes the Alamodome.
"We live up here in the Northeast where we've done things a certain way," Auriemma said. "The fact that this whole pandemic thing has been one giant political fiasco, I guess I'm not surprised."
--Field Level Media