As coronavirus continues to spread throughout the U.S., the National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced that March Madness will be held without fans in attendance.
NCAA President Mark Emmert revealed the news in a statement on Wednesday, explaining, “My decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States.”
“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,” Emmert shared.
“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 students and families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed,” the statement concluded.
The 82nd annual edition of the tournament is scheduled to begin on March 17 at University of Dayton Arena and will conclude with the championship game on April 6 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Anxiety about the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus has caused other sporting events around the world to be either canceled or held inside empty stadiums, without fans allowed in to watch.
Also on Wednesday, collegiate athletic conference The Ivy League announced their decision to cancel all athletic events through the remainder of the spring.
“With further developments in the outbreak of COVID-19, the Ivy League Presidents are announcing their unanimous decision to cancel all spring athletics practice and competition through the remainder of the academic year,” a statement on their website reads.
“In accordance with the guidance of public health and medical professionals, several Ivy League institutions have announced that students will not return to campus after spring break, and classes will be held virtually during the semester. Given this situation, it is not feasible for practice and competition to continue.”
Getty Images University of Dayton Arena
NBA teams have also issued similar statements.
The Golden State Warriors revealed in a statement that the team will play against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday in an empty arena at the Chase Center. They will continue to play without fans in attendance through March 21.
At this time, the Lakers are waiting on the NBA to decide how to proceed.
LeBron James made headlines earlier this month when he said “I ain’t playing” in an empty arena, but has since changed his stance, explaining he didn’t know it was in response to coronavirus.
“It’s funny because when I was asked the question would you play without no fans, I had no idea it was actually a conversation going behind closed doors about the particular virus,” James said on Tuesday, USA Today reported.
“I play for my family, and I play for my fans. No one could actually come to the game if it actually got to that point. I would be disappointed in that. But at the same time, you got to listen to the people that are keeping track of what is going on,” James said.
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As of Wednesday, there are now at least 1,015 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States. At least 31 people in te U.S. have died from coronavirus-related illness, mostly in Washington state.
The first cases of a mysterious respiratory illness — what is now known as COVID-2019, a form of coronavirus — began in Wuhan, China in late December. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide, leading the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency, the first since the zika epidemic in 2016.
The first U.S. case was found in Everett, Washington, just outside of Seattle, in a man who had recently returned from Wuhan. The number of cases grew slowly from there, with a total of just 14 over the course of about a month, but as February came to an end, the virus began to spread more rapidly in communities across the U.S.