Remember when we all were clinging to hope for 2020 only a couple of months ago? Me neither. The year is off to a disastrous start, literally. The coronavirus is taking lives, creating panic, and hitting the stock market. It’s disastrous. Large-scale events are getting canceled and delayed left and right, including South by Southwest and Coachella. The NCAA tournament isn’t canceled or delayed, but in a surreal piece of news, the tournament will play without fans.
Today, the NCAA announced the men and women tournaments will move forward without fans in seats. The major decision comes shortly after Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine, said he planned on issuing an order banning fans from the NCAA games in Cleveland and Dayton. Right now, even the Golden State Warriors intend on playing in an empty arena going forward.
Upcoming conference tournaments are moving forward without fans, too. The Big West Conference, for example, announced they weren’t allowing the public into the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-12 are already happening.
March Madness begins next week. 68 male teams and 64 female teams hitting the courts. The men’s tournament included eight first and second-round matches. The games will be played in New York, California, Florida, Washington, and other major cities. The regional matches are scheduled to take place in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Houston and New York. As for the women’s NCAA tournament, the games begin on March 21st and visit 16 cities.
NCAA president, Mark Emmert, revealed the news to the Associated Press. Emmert confirmed the games will only involve the players and essential staff:
“The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel. 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.”
NCAA fans aren’t happy but obviously understanding. It’s what’s best. No word yet on how the NCAA will handle ticket refunds. Emmert and those in charge considered cancelling the tournament altogether, but they decided to go ahead with the games. Emmert added:
“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. 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.”
It’s going to be surreal, to say the least, to watch college and professional sports without crowds. How will it change the game? The fans are a huge part of the atmosphere and the game itself. Enough noise and pressure from a crowd can cause a pivotal shot to fail or succeed. This year, we’re going to see a very different, much scarier version of March Madness.