NCAA basketball tournament to be played without fans

NCAA basketball tournament to be played without fans
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The NCAA announced Thursday that its men's and women's basketball tournaments, known as March Madness, will be played in nearly empty venues due to the concerns of the spread of the coronavirus.

"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," he continued.

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One of the largest sporting events of the year, the men's tournament is the NCAA's largest source of revenue. The college athletics governing body made over $1 billion last year and over $900 million of it came from March Madness.

In 2018, more than 97 million people watch the tournament in 180 countries. Between 700,000 and 800,000 people per year attend the tournament's games.

The move follows the lead of sports leagues around the world that have canceled or changed plans for games amid rising concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

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Spain's top soccer league, La Liga, will play upcoming matches in empty stadiums and Italy's Serie A has postponed all games.

On Tuesday, four of the five major American men's sports leagues — the MLB, MLS, NBA and NHL — all agreed to close player locker rooms to the media in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

Also on Tuesday, the Ivy League, one of basketball conferences in Division I, canceled its conference tournament.

Another Division I basketball conference, the Mid-American Conference, is playing its tournament with only family members, essential staff and media present.

The coronavirus has infected more than 124,000 people worldwide. In the U.S., there are more than 700 reported cases of COVID-19 and 27 reported deaths.