It’s Official. March Madness Will Be Played Without Fans.
In an unprecedented decision, the NCAA is limiting attendance to just staff and family
Following an absolutely inconceivable decision by the NCAA, March Madness will be played without fans.
NCAA President Mark Emmert announced in a statement earlier today that due to the spread of COVID-19, both the men’s and women’s iterations of the NCAA Tournament, which were poised to culminate this April in Atlanta and New Orleans, respectively, will now be played in empty arenas. The only permitted attendance will include teams, team staff, arena staff and family members of the players.
— NCAA (@NCAA) March 11, 2020
As gut-wrenchingly eerie it will be to hear the Tournament’s usual cacophony — pep bands, howling student sections, Jumbotron pump-ups — reduced to just the squeak of sneakers, the NCAA really had no choice. The sports world has been hit as hard (if not harder) by the spread of coronavirus as any other industry, and the stepping stones to a dramatic decision were already there. Italy, along with other European soccer leagues, has already gotten used to games in empty stadiums. The Ivy League canceled all spring sports. Seattle banned gatherings of 250 or more through the end of March, with obvious implications on its sporting events.
According to The New York Times, the NCAA had privately debated the correct course of action for weeks, (even hiring a team of medical experts to monitor the coronavirus), before concluding that an empty-stadium tournament was the only option. Essentially: keep millions safe from unnecessary exposure, while ensuring the hundreds of millions expected from broadcast partnerships aren’t lost.
Meanwhile, ongoing NCAA conference tournaments (the Big East Tournament is currently underway at Madison Square Garden, for example) are in play-until-told-otherwise state. As the situation develops over the next couple days, it’s likely that the championships to those tournaments, many scheduled for this weekend, could be played without fans.
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