"These are unprecedented times and times that are difficult for everyone," Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer said to begin a press conference on Tuesday. Reporters sat six feet away from each other in the Ray and Lucy Hand digital studio. It was a lot different than football, basketball or any other season for that matter.
"Our teams, our coaches, our administration, the media, the fans, you know, we're all navigating this together," Fulmer said.
The "this" Fulmer references is the coronavirus, or COVID-19, specifically the impact it's had on the athletics program and community as a whole. In less than a week, the Vols went from preparing for conference tournaments and March Madness to canceling all SEC games for the remainder of the 2019-20 athletic year.
"I'm heartbroken for our student-athletes who, at no fault of their own, have seen the pursuit of their athletic goals interrupted in such an unexpected way," Fulmer said.
While it doesn't help the heartbreak, the pain from seasons coming to a sudden end have a purpose.
"We need to and we have put our competitive nature aside in the Southeastern Conference and come together to fight the spread of this virus. Our coaches and our athletes realize and have responded beautifully. If there's one thing that our volunteer spirit has prepared us for, it's to unite for the sake of the greater good," Fulmer said.
The University is recommending student-athletes go home if possible. If it's not, Tennessee will provide the resources necessary, from housing to academics and medical facilities as well.
In addition, Fulmer confirmed on Tuesday that no Tennessee student-athletes have tested positive for the coronavirus. As for eligibility, it's clear that it's a concern for many, but it will be quite some time before all is sorted out for the different sports and athletes.
Softball co-head coach Karen Weekly said the team was on its way to its first SEC series when she learned of the news that play would be suspended.
"A lot of emotions, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear, a lot of confusion, but I think what I was most proud of with our student-athletes is despite their disappointment about softball, they quickly saw the bigger picture, and that this is about a world health crisis," Weekly said.
Weekly drew inspiration from a post she saw on social media earlier this week. It was a powerful, but simple message.
"Our elders were called to save lives. We're being called to sit on the couch to save theirs, and we can do this and I think that's the message we really need to get across right now. It's not so much about working out in competition. It's about our part in stopping the virus."
Over the span of three days last week, head women's basketball coach Kellie Harper and her team went from practicing, to meeting, to their season coming to a close.
"It was very abrupt, just didn't feel like we got a lot of closure with our season," Harper said.
A majority of the team is now out of town, with just a couple of players making arrangements to leave, including the international students who have flights booked.
"It was really difficult. Hard to put some closure on things when, basketball takes a backseat as it should at this time, so you know, just trying to make sure that they understood our appreciation for them and what they have done as well, during this time."
Head men's basketball coach Rick Barnes and the team was less than an hour from tipoff when the news came down that the SEC Tournament would be canceled. Now, Barnes said the team in question is bigger than those wearing orange and white.
"It's not about us, it's about our country. It's about the safety of our country. It's about making sure that we don't do anything that and again, I hope young people understand that they don't do anything that's going to bring harm to other people by being careless," Barnes said.
The baseball team was entering its first weekend of SEC play, sitting on a 15-2 record and viewed as one of the top 25 teams in the country with a lot of potential for the remainder of the season. Now, it's over.
"For most teams, you lose, and it's a sudden punch in the gut, you probably lose a close game that you thought you could have won, or things ended abruptly and now all of a sudden guys are crying and that's it. For this deal, it's kind of been, this doesn't look good. This looks worse," head coach Tony Vitello said.
Moving to the Olympic sports, director of swimming and diving Matt Kredich said many tears were shed as the season was canceled just before the NCAA championships. As the calendar turns toward the summer games, Kredich said the focus was on getting student-athletes home to their families.
"It's becoming increasingly difficult for swimmers all over the globe to train. That's not really a concern, it's not an immediate concern for our athletes. We wanted them each to have an opportunity to go home and be with their families so that their families could make decisions about how to how to face the coming crisis."
The track and field team was at the indoor national championships, less than 24 hours away from the beginning of the competition when the NCAA cancellation on championship events came down. Director of track and field and cross country Beth Alford-Sullivan said she's had many heartbreaking conversations with seniors in the past week as the NCAA works to find solutions for eligibility.
"It's a hard time, it's a hard time just to process the loss, but also potentially the loss of not being able to participate in their sport, even seeing their career through," Alford-Sullivan said.
Heartbreak. Disappointment. There are a lot of words to describe what has transpired in the world of sport in the past week, but it's a sacrifice that Fulmer, the coaches and the student-athletes hope will help the world at large.
"On every one of the cases, they totally understand that the greater good here is that we stop or slow this virus down."