NCAA tournament games will not be open to the general public because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said Wednesday that he made the decision to conduct both the men's and women's tournaments, which begin next week, with only essential staff and limited family in attendance. The decision comes after the NCAA's COVID-19 advisory panel of medical experts recommended against playing sporting events open to the general public.
Emmert told The Associated Press that canceling the tournament was considered.
"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," Emmert told the AP in an phone interview. "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."
Emmert said the NCAA also was looking into moving the men's Final Four from Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a smaller arena. The NCAA will consider using smaller venues for regional sites currently scheduled to be played at the Toyota Center in Houston; Madison Square Garden in New York; Staples Center in Los Angeles and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The decision applies to more than just men's and women's basketball. All NCAA-sponsored championships including hockey's Frozen Four will be affected.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
The 68-team field for the men's basketball tournament is scheduled to be announced Sunday and the 64-team women's tournament field is to be unveiled Monday. Games begin Tuesday and Wednesday on the men's side in Dayton, Ohio, where earlier Wednesday the governor said he would issue an order to restrict spectator access to indoor sporting events.
The Mid-American Conference on Tuesday announced it was closing its men's and women's basketball tournament games at Cleveland's Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and scheduled site of the men's NCAA games, to the general public. The women's tournament started Wednesday.
The Big West Conference announced a similar move, not allowing the general public into its basketball tournament games to be played this week at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
Conference college basketball tournaments are in full swing across the country this week. The Atlantic Coast Conference is in Day 2 of its five-day men's tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Pac-12 played the first game of its tournament in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
Later Wednesday, the Southeastern Conference was to begin its men's tournament in Nahsville, Tennessee; the Big East was set to start at Madison Square Garden in New York; and the Big Ten was scheduled to tip off in Indianapolis. There were no plans to restrict fan access to those events.
March Madness hits another level next week with the start of the NCAA Tournament to crown a national champion, one of the most popular events on the American sports calendar.
There are eight first- and second-round sites for the men's tournament, scheduled to be played March 19-22. Locations include Cleveland; Spokane, Washington; Albany, New York; Sacramento, California; and Omaha, Nebraska. The four regional sites for the second weekend of the tournament are Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Houston and New York. The Final Four is in Atlanta, with the semifinals on April 4 and the championship game April 6.
The women's tournament first- and second-round games begin March 21 and will be played at 16 sites, mostly on or close the campuses of the top seeded teams. The regionals will be played in Dallas, Greenville, South Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Final Four will be held in New Orleans on April 3 and 5.