Clarkston’s Diane and Mark Swanson have attended the West Coast Conference Basketball Tournament every March since the event became a fixture at Orleans Arena in 2009.
Their annual trip to Las Vegas will continue, even though they won’t be able to watch the Gonzaga men’s and women’s teams inside Orleans Arena. The WCC announced Tuesday no spectators will be permitted at tournament games March 4-9 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re really bummed,” Diane said. “It’s amazing when you go and see so many people you know from Spokane and Lewiston and Clarkston. There’s probably about eight of us, all from Clarkston, that go. They’re pretty upset. ... We stay at the Orleans and we’ve lost enough money down there that’s probably why we get free rooms every year. Mark was like, ‘We go every year, we might as well go,’ but it’s kind of a bummer we don’t get to watch them play.”
Thousands of Gonzaga fans can relate. GU followers pack Orleans rooms and restaurants and typically occupy 5,000-plus seats at Orleans Arena for Zags games.
“This is certainly a difficult decision, but it is the responsible decision for the WCC,” WCC Commissioner Gloria Nevarez said. “Limiting the number of people inside the Orleans Arena that are not subject to our testing and safety protocols helps provide the safest environment to conduct our tournament.
“While Clark County has provided the opportunity to have a limited number of spectators for our event, we made this decision to allow us to be in the best position to protect our student-athletes, staff and everyone at our event.”
Coach Mark Few and athletic director Mike Roth have expressed Gonzaga’s concerns about COVID-19 risks of playing the events in Las Vegas and the potential impact on NCAA tournaments. Few reiterated his concerns on The Field of 68 podcast, noting the NCAA is requiring seven consecutive negative tests before teams arrive in Indianapolis.
“What we’ve learned over the year with our team is we have to be pretty much isolated the seven days prior to the testing for seven days,” Few said. “So we’re going to have to hunker down before we head down to our conference tournament.”
Swanson said she “completely understood” the conference’s decision not allowing fans to attend.
“You don’t want to take a chance and that place gets so packed,” she said. “We’d hate to see any of the players get sick before the (NCAA) tournament.”
The Swansons were able to attend Gonzaga’s first two games of the season in Fort Myers, Florida.
“Hopefully, the games will be on TV somewhere in the Orleans,” Diane said. “This whole year has been really goofy with COVID, but watching them play I think they have a chance of going all the way.”