1 Pyramid, 2 teams, 3 officials, no fans; sports in the time of coronavirus

At 6 p.m., Tuesday, Long Beach State’s women’s basketball team tipped off against Cal Poly in the opener of the Big West Tournament in the Walter Pyramid. Present when the ball went up were two teams, three officials, a dozen or so media types and 4,000 empty seats. There were no concession stands, no families there for their seniors’ last college game. There were no bands or cheerleaders. The national anthem was played and starting lineups were announced, but there was no one on hand to hear them. The lights were on, but nobody was home.

It was one of the most bizarre scenes in the history of Long Beach State athletics. Just two hours before Tuesday’s game, Big West officials announced that no spectators would be allowed to attend this week’s games due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus.

As players shot free throws, an eerie hush fell over the Pyramid and players could actually hear the ESPN play-by-play announcers in real time.

“It came as a shock,” said Long Beach State sophomore Justina King. “It was really, really weird.”

Photo by Joseph Kling.

For Cal Poly players, there were family members who got the news while they were driving down to Long Beach.

“A bunch of us were disappointed because we had family coming, but our bench was loud and we felt energized,” said Mustangs star Sierra Campisano, who scored 30 points. “We felt like it was an advantage, because it took away their home court.”

That wasn’t the only advantage the Mustangs gained.

“I could actually hear the play calls from their coach so we could kind of tell our team what was coming,” said Cal Poly coach Faith Mimnaugh. “So that was great.”

The Mustangs ended up winning 59-48, but the result didn’t feel nearly as significant as the way the game was played, echoing the philosopher George Berkeley’s query about a tree falling in the woods with no one to see or hear it.

The Pyramid will play host to another pair of spectator-less games on Wednesday, and this kind of atmosphere seems more likely to spread than to be contained, much like the virus officials are hoping to slow down. The NBA, NHL and NCAA have all discussed the possibilities of mandating games with no fans in attendance.

As strange as it was to see the Walter Pyramid empty, when the men’s Big West Tournament begins on Thursday at the Honda Center, the echoes of sneaker squeaks and the ball bouncing will be even louder. The attendance in the Pyramid was 4,000 empty seats; at the Honda Center, 18,000 empty seats are expected to be in attendance.

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Mike and JJ go together like mac and cheese: they’re best friends, business partners and Long Beach sports experts. They’ve been working together for over a decade covering Long Beach local sports and now run the562.org, a community-funded nonprofit media outlet.
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