Eye on KELOLAND: Center of the college basketball universe


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Sanford Pentagon is set to host the most impressive stretch of basketball games since the venue opened in September 2013.

It includes the number one team in both men’s and women’s college basketball and starts Wednesday with the eight-team Crossover Classic.

The Sanford Pentagon has quietly become the center of the college basketball universe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Quite honestly, a lot of it has to do with our nexus with the medical center and our testing capabilities,” Sanford Sports Complex Vice President of Operations Jesse Smith said.

A combination most venues cannot offer.

“That was one of the pieces to the puzzle that we were able to solve early on through our professionals and our medical team, and that’s been kind of the thing that’s set us apart from other venues and other locations around the country,” Smith said.

“In my world, overseeing athletic trainers, we’ve had to take approximately ten staff and upskill them so that they’re now proficient at performing the nasopharyngeal swab that we do on all of the teams and officials and staff that work the event,” Sanford Health Director of Sports Medicine Outreach Tryg Odney said.

It hasn’t been all victories for the Pentagon.

“We’ve dealt with a multitude of issues, just specific to this event, travel bans, teams having positive players, positive tests,” Odney said.

Wichita State withdrew Monday night due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests within the team travel party. Six of the eight teams originally scheduled to play in the Crossover Classic have now bowed out, but a quality lineup of teams will still step onto the court Wednesday.

“Really proud of the team here, how we’ve been able to pivot, almost on a daily basis, and move on to the next option and keep this tournament alive, give these players a chance to get on the court and get their season started,” Smith said.

The Pentagon also made every effort to accommodate fans.

“The team really did step up and we did put a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of resources into making this as safe as possible and that includes the fishbowl environment that we’re in right now. We took a lot of cues from the NBA, what they did in Orlando and their bubble. We felt we could replicate that here, learn from their lessons, and do the best we could to keep players safe,” Smith said.

The Pentagon assembled a plexiglass barrier, creating a bubble for players, coaches, and staff. Despite that, and other safety precautions, the decision was made on Monday to not allow fans into the Crossover Classic.

“I think just looking at the community right now, I think we’re getting some restrictions put in place to try and prepare us for the holidays, and so making that change I give a thumbs up to my leadership to make that change and move forward,” Odney said.

Smith says the key is controlling the controlled environment.

“We don’t want to expose them to someone who potentially has the virus and so everyone they come in contact with will have gone through the same sort of protocols and same testing procedures to ensure that whoever they interact with also doesn’t have the virus,” Smith said.

“They will go from the airport to the hotel, they’ll come right to the testing center and we will complete the swabs on each of the individuals. We have our lab trucks on-site, processing the tests as we turn them in and so teams will know within an hour of their test results,” Odney said.

A negative test result earns a player their spot on Heritage Court.

“They’ve been supportive, they’ve been helpful, they’ve supported each other, they’ve supported Sanford Health, and helped us build our protocols. I think the one consistent message is we just want to play,” Smith said.

It’s been a long journey for everyone involved, and the games are just getting started.

“I really hope we have that time to look back, reflect at what we were able to do in this pandemic and just be proud of it,” Smith said.

The men’s Crossover Classic tips off Wednesday and continues through Friday, with four games scheduled for each day of the tournament. The women’s Crossover Classic starts Saturday and runs through Monday. Click here for this week’s schedule.

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