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In a response to the growing concern of the transmission of the coronavirus in large crowds, the NCAA has announced that the games for their annual Men’s Basketball Tournament will be held without fans.
“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,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement.
“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’s decision will cover both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. In addition, the NCAA announced that they are looking for smaller venues to hold the men’s Final Four from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
President Emmert also announced that only essential arena personnel, broadcast crews and a small number of immediate family members would be allowed to watch the games. All individuals who enter the arena will be medically screened according to the NCAA’s new protocol.
Emmert’s hand was forced on Wednesday to announce the no-fans policy with the news that several schools would not allow students to return to campus to finish classes for the spring semester.
Some conferences went even further as the Ivy League announced that they were canceling all of their spring sporting events, ending the baseball, softball and track seasons at schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
But even with the no-fans announcement of no fans allowed into tournament games, Emmert told The Athletic that he’s prepared to go even further if need be, hinting that they might have to cancel the annual event if news of the virus’ spread across America becomes worse.
The change in the tenor and the mountain of new data regarding the national coronavirus conversation led Emmert and his staff at the NCAA to reevaluate their stance on holding the tournament with large crowds.
Knowing that his decision would affect the conference tournaments being held this week, Emmert said his decision to limit the outside exposure to players and coaches would need to be worth the burden to impact those that depend on the revenue of these events.
As of Wednesday night, the NCAA will keep the location of the First Four, the eight early-round sites and the four regional arenas, but the Mercedes-Benz arena with a capacity of 71,000 at Atlanta Falcons games is far too large to hold a fan-restricted event like the Final Four.
Emmert told The Athletic that moving the early sites would create travel nightmares for teams and he hoped to minimize the burden on the colleges that make the annual tournament known as March Madness.
With the news that the NBA season has been suspended due to the positive coronavirus test of Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert, the next 48 hours will present a dilemma to Emmert and the NCAA as pressure to reduce exposure to the virus heightens around the sporting world.
For the latest coronavirus news and how it is affecting the sports world check out our other articles on the virus here.
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