Story at a glance

  • March marks the beginning of tournament season for college athletes in different divisions around the country.
  • The NCAA is limiting attendance of all games to essential staff and family due to concerns over coronavirus.
  • Public health officials are recommending people avoid large public gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19.

For college students and basketball fans of all ages, March means madness. But the outbreak of the novel coronavirus is threatening the annual tradition that packs sporting arenas across the country. 

The NCAA has announced that upcoming championship events, including the Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments, would be held 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," said NCAA President Mark Emmert in a statement on March 11.

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One day earlier, the NCAA announced the formation of the advisory panel consisting of experts in epidemiology and public health, but said decisions about conference tournament play were up to member schools and conferences. Public health officials warned against large public gatherings as some states banned them altogether

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"We would recommend that there not be large crowds," Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health said on Capitol Hill the next day. "If that means not having any people in the audience, so be it. But as a public health official, anything that has large crowds is something that would give a risk to spread."

The Ivy League was the first NCAA Division I conference to cancel its conference basketball tournament. It was a big decision for the NCAA, which raked in more than $900 million in 2018 from media rights fees, ticket sales and corporate sponsorships during March Madness, according to Investopedia.

An NCAA spokesman told YahooSports the NCAA tournament games will still be televised, but the NCAA is "still working through [a decision on] other media."

 

Published on Mar 11, 2020