The NCAA made the unprecedented decision Wednesday to hold its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments without fans because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
“The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “Based on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA Board of Governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance.
“While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States. This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed.”
Emmert told The Associated Press that canceling the tournament was considered.
“The decision was based on a combination of the information provided by national and state officials, by the advisory team that we put together of medical experts from across the country, and looking at what was going to be in the best interest of our student-athletes, of course,” Emmert told the AP in an phone interview. “But also the public health implications of all of this. We recognize our tournaments bring people from all around the country together. They’re not just regional events. They’re big national events. It’s a very, very hard decision for all the obvious reasons.”
Emmert said the NCAA also was looking into moving the men’s Final Four from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a smaller arena. The NCAA will consider using smaller venues for the men’s regionals currently scheduled to be played at the Toyota Center in Houston; Madison Square Garden in New York; Staples Center in Los Angeles; and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The decision applies to more than just men’s and women’s basketball. All NCAA-sponsored championships will be affected, including hockey’s Frozen Four (April 9-11 in Detroit) and wrestling (March 19-21 in Minneapolis).
The NCAA announcement came after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he would issue an order that would ban fans from NCAA tournament games in Cleveland and First Four games in Dayton.
Sporting events around the world have been affected by the virus. States and cities have banned large gatherings, leading teams such as the Golden State Warriors to say that they would play in empty arenas.
Many conference tournaments will also be played without fans. The Mid-American Conference closed its men’s and women’s basketball tournament games at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and scheduled site of the men’s NCAA games, to the general public. The women’s tournament started Wednesday.
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