Florida State's basketball team left the Greensboro Coliseum's court at 12:02 p.m. today and returned a half-hour later to collect its trophy.
The surreal scenes continued right through Commissioner John Swofford's announcement that the ACC Tournament for men's basketball was canceled, on a day that ultimately saw the NCAA's men's and women's basketball tournaments and all of its spring championships also canceled.
"The league has made a decision to end this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament as of today," Swofford said, standing in front of regular-season champion Florida State and amid a swath of journalists. "It’s tough to say those words to these young men that are on the floor, that would be continuing to play.
"It’s tough to say those words for you fans that are in the stands, for the media covering this great event. But we believe it’s the right decision to make at this particular point in time."
According to a report from the News & Observer in Raleigh, the league's position had to change because Duke decided it would suspend its spring sports — meaning the Blue Devils wouldn't be in the building for the quarterfinal matchup against N.C. State this afternoon, nor would it have participated in the NCAA Tournament beginning next week.
“We are taking this action to protect the safety of our student athletes, coaches, staff and others who are essential to these activities," Duke president Vincent Price said in a statement. "I know it is a great disappointment to our student-athletes and coaches, whose hard work and dedication to their sports and Duke is inspirational to so many, but we must first look out for their health and well-being. This is clearly an unprecedented moment for our university, our region and the wider world. As we take steps to confront the spread of this virus, I’m grateful for the cooperation and support of the entire Duke community.”
The ACC announced Wednesday night, after the night session of the second round had begun, that tournament attendance would be limited to "essential tournament personnel, limited school administrators and student-athlete guests, broadcast television and credentialed media members present."
Swofford held a news conference this morning and reiterated that the tournament would be played as planned.
And then the dominoes fell. As nearly all of the major conferences across the country canceled league tournaments, Florida State and Clemson's bands played to a mostly empty Greensboro Coliseum.
And then came the announcement.
"You can ask why was it not made sooner, that’s a fair question," Swofford said. "The answer is that it’s an extraordinarily fluid situation with information coming that changes — I used to say by the week, now I say by the day, and now I say by the hour. So hopefully we’re doing the right thing in the context of this great country of ours and in the context of intercollegiate sports."
The ACC's official statement reads:
“Following additional consultation with the league’s presidents and athletic directors, and in light of the continued conversations surrounding the fluidity of COVID-19, the Atlantic Coast Conference will immediately cancel the remainder of the 2020 ACC Tournament," a statement from the ACC read. "For NCAA Tournament automatic qualification purposes, Florida State will represent the league as the ACC Champion. We are disappointed for our student-athletes, schools and fans to have to make this decision; however, the overall health and safety of all involved is the priority.”
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, in a statement, supported the decision by his university.
“The welfare of our student-athletes, and all students at Duke, is paramount, and this decision reflects that institutional priority," Krzyzewski said, according to the statement. "Certainly, I want to applaud Dr. Price, who took a leadership role with his presidential peers and the Atlantic Coast Conference in arriving at this decision.”
Clemson and Florida State were scheduled to tip off at 12:30 p.m. in the first of four quarterfinal games at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Florida State's team warmed up for about 10 minutes. An official spoke with the players, and then the players left the court.
"This can't be happening," said one player dressed in his warmups.
Later in the afternoon, the ACC announced that all athletic related activities have been suspended until further notice — covering competitions, formal practices, recruiting and participation in NCAA events.
“This is uncharted territory and the health and safety of our student-athletes and institutions remains our top priority," Swofford's statement reads. "This decision is aimed to protect from the further spread of COVID-19.”
The ACC was the first Division I conference to make such announcement.
The decision by the league to stop its basketball tournament decision followed announced cancellations this morning by the Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Southeastern Conference, Pacific 12 Conference, American Athletic Conference, Sun Belt Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Western Athletic Conference, Big Sky Conference and Western Athletic Conference.
The Big East Conference Tournament continued this afternoon in Madison Square Garden in New York before league officials made the call to cancel the remainder of it during halftime of the first quarterfinal game between Creighton and St. John's.
The ACC cancellation is the first in the 67 years of the ACC, with Greensboro was hosting the event for the 27th time.
Two games were played during Tuesday's first round, and Wednesday's second round featured four games.
As for the NCAA, the organization held its first tournament in 1939 and had never missed a year of competition, even during World War II.