How the Battle 4 Atlantis found a new home in South Dakota as the Crossover Classic
After weeks of hard logistical work, the elephant in the room was addressed in the form of some self-deprecating humor.
Wednesday, a group of men’s college basketball teams that had mostly been slated to spend their Thanksgiving in the Bahamas playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis were instead officially announced as participants in the Crossover Classic. The eight-team event that includes Ohio State will take place Nov. 25-27 and will be played at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota – a far cry from the all-inclusive resort the Buckeyes had initially signed up for.
That fact wasn’t lost on the event’s organizers, who touted the South Dakota facility’s critical medical capabilities in order to host an event during the COVID-19 pandemic while also poking a little bit of fun at the drastic change in location.
“We don’t have sandy beaches in South Dakota,” said Jesse Smith, vice president of operations for the Sanford Sports Complex. “We don’t have 88-degree weather in November, but we are very confident that we can deliver an unparalleled basketball experience to all of these teams and fans that will be at Sioux Falls.”
The event came together fairly quickly once it became clear that international travel in the midst of a pandemic was not a good option. Once Atlantis was canceled, a coach familiar with the Sanford site, which includes a medical facility and sports complex, reached out to Atlantis tournament director Lea Miller. Once she and her team paid an on-site visit, the proximity to medical resources coupled with the amenities helped seal the deal.
Then it became a matter of finalizing the field, which wound up with just one change from its initial eight-team lineup. Creighton, Memphis, Texas A&M, Utah, West Virginia and Wichita State were all slated to participate alongside Ohio State, but Duke opted out and will host its own multi-team event instead.
Smith said ESPN was responsible for assembling the bracket that has Ohio State opening against Memphis and on the opposite side from Dayton. As other multi-team events fell apart, he said, the Flyers quickly emerged as a viable replacement.
“We identified Dayton as one of those targets that would really round this field out,” he said. “There are no gimmes in this tournament. Dayton was a top two or three team at the end of last year. They had an opening for (a multi-team event) and that one came together relatively quickly.”
The primary selling point for the site was a medical team that includes Dr. Jeremy Cauwels, a member of the NCAA’s COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group and the senior vice president of quality at Sanford Health.
With his help, the plan is to keep all eight teams in a bubble-like environment while also allowing a limited number of fans in attendance. The arena seats 3,200 fans, and time will tell how many will be permitted to attend.
“Being part of an integrated health system has allowed us to put together a plan to make this a safe environment for all the teams that are committed to playing here,” said Steve Young, president of Sanford Sports.
Cauwels said the event is already coordinating with teams and their conferences to make sure it can align itself with the most stringent testing requirements. Upon arrival, all members of the traveling parties will be driven to a testing facility and then delivered straight to their hotel rooms to await results. That date is scheduled to be Nov. 23, two days before games begin.
From that point, frequent testing will take place.
“Nobody touches the floor until their test is negative,” Cauwels said. “That way we can ensure that the basketball courts are clear and that will include everybody in the bubble.”
The doctor said he feels good about the environment his team will be able to create in Sioux Falls. Only the 30-member traveling party will be given floor access, plexiglass will separate spectators from participants and fans will enter and exit the arena from separate, marked locations.
The rest will be up to the participating individuals.
“I think the biggest challenge is the challenge we have all over the country right now: every individual takes some responsibility for whether or not they get exposed to COVID,” he said. “As we can clearly see, that’s been a pretty difficult torch to carry for many of those college students.”
In the interim, the planning will continue as teams begin official practices this week. And if all goes well, Sioux Falls will play host to a number of marquee matchups starting on the first day of the 2020-21 season.
“We know that these are tough times and we know that people are starved for some relief for some of the things we’re going through,” Young said. “It is our goal and our aim to create an environment where we get this basketball tournament off on the right foot and it goes through as completed and people have an opportunity to watch it.”