A Surreal Morning Inside Bridgestone, With Tennessee vs. Memphis Cancelled Due To COVID

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It was a surreal moment in Bridgestone Arena on Saturday morning, as another Tennessee basketball game was canceled. Back in March of 2020, the same thing happened, as the Vols were getting set to play Alabama in the SEC Tournament. This time, it came sixty minutes before tip-off against Memphis.

The Tennessee basketball team made its way inside the arena around 9:30 am, just as they were starting to get word that the game could possibly be cancelled. Players started making their way towards the locker room, but the Memphis basketball team never made it fully inside the arena. Rick Barnes said that he was called by someone at 9:25 local time, just as they were getting on the bus to head over to the arena.

Turns out, Memphis officials called Tennessee and arena officials to let them know they were in “Covid protocol,” before heading to the arena.

Who would’ve thought we were about to experience this all over again.

The mood was normal for the first few minutes of my trip inside the arena, but as I was grabbing a cup of coffee, a photographer came running into the media room, frantically letting us know they had just cancelled the game. An announcement was made over the loud speaker to the fans inside the arena. I went straight to the Vols locker room area, watching the managers start packing up the teams belongings.

The Tennessee basketball twitter account put out a statement saying the game was cancelled, just as players were starting to get dressed. As Tennessee play-by-play announcer Bob Kesling snuck off to an inside corridor, the assistant coaches walked by me, shaking their heads in disappointment. It was definitely March 2020 all over again, as Rick Barnes held a media scrum to discuss today’s events.

“We got a call on the bus that there was a possibility the game might not be played,” Barnes said, before shooting down any opportunity to reschedule the game. The fans were hit the most, as the plaza outside the arena was packed with fans hoping to get in. It’s not as if Tennessee fans knew they would have a scrimmage when the announcement was made that the game was cancelled, so some fans left. If you were outside the arena, the event staff kept fans from entering the arena after it was announced.

Sitting in an arena with about 400 Tennessee fans, watching the team scrimmage each other could probably sum up the last few hours. I had this weird feeling last night laying in bed, wondering what other games would be cancelled due to covid protocols. I just didn’t think it would be the one down the street from where I was sleeping.

Rick Barnes spoke with the media that was around, about the possibility of rescheduling the game.

“There is no way in our schedule with what we have. We have one more non-league game, then we break for Christmas for a couple days and we are into conference play, plus we have the Big12/SEC Challenge with Texas. We have no open dates.”

It felt exactly like 2020, besides the fact that the Tennessee fans that were still in the arena were allowed to watch the intra-squad scrimmage. But, I have learned one thing about Tennessee basketball and Bridgestone Arena, don’t expect it to go off smoothly, no matter the circumstances.

Rick Barnes was also excited about playing in front of Tennessee fans, especially as they look to bring more games to the mid-state.

“There is no doubt we knew we would have a lot of orange in the building. We said before this is like a second home to us. We looked and early before the game people were walking in. We had great preparation leading up to it. We were all excited about playing.”

There hasn’t been any word from Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway, but Barnes said they would evaluate the future of playing the Tigers.

“We’ll do what’s right for our program like we always do. I know one thing, I’ve said it before, we’ve got to have a presence here in Nashville.”

We will see where things go for Memphis basketball this week, but Tennessee still gave the remaining fans a show. In today’s world, where you usually just get a refund and an apology, Rick Barnes wanted to at least thank the fans that were able to get in. I promise you, if it was up to him, he would’ve gone upstairs and let all those fans waiting outside into the arena, but that was controlled by Bridgestone staff.

This was supposed to be a big day for the State of Tennessee, but it turned out to be a dud.


Written by Trey Wallace

Wallace started covering the SEC in 2012, as the conference landscape was beginning to change. Prior to his time in Knoxville, Wallace worked in Nashville for The Read Optional, where he first produced content that garnered national attention. His passion for sports is evident in his work and has led him to break some of college football’s biggest stories. His social media reach and natural podcast proficiency continue to make Wallace one of SEC’s most trusted sources.


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