NCAA's 'March Madness' to go on without fans
The buzzer-beaters, upsets and all the other shining moments of this year’s NCAA tournaments will be played in mostly empty arenas.
Trying to avoid spreading the new coronavirus that has become a global pandemic, the NCAA decided the men’s and women’s tournament games — including some planned for Sacramento —will be off-limits to the general public.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said Wednesday that he made the decision to conduct both 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 wants to move the men’s Final Four on April 4 and 6 from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a smaller arena in the area. The NCAA also will consider using smaller venues for second-week regional sites currently set 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.
“We have to determine the availability of the sites, obviously, but it doesn’t make good sense to have a football stadium be empty,” Emmert said.
All sites for next week’s men’s games will remain the same unless conditions in those areas force relocation, he said.
Plans for refunding tickets purchased in advance were being worked out.
First- and second-round sites for the women’s tournament will become official next week. Those games are usually played at or near the campuses of the highly seeded teams.
“It’s really sad. Obviously it’s disappointing for all our fans,” said Louisville women’s coach Jeff Walz, whose team is ranked No. 6 in the latest AP poll. “At the same time I completely understand for the health and safety of the fans and student-athletes and everyone involved.”
Walz said the university already had sold more than 4,000 tickets for the first- and second-round sessions.
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.
But the men’s basketball tournament is the crown jewel, one of the most popular events on the American sports calendar. March Madness draws hundreds of thousands of fans to arenas from coast to coast. The men’s tournament generated more than $900 million in revenue last year for the NCAA and its members, though the majority of that was from a media rights deal with CBS and Turner that pays about $800 billion per year.
“We’re like any enterprise of this size, we have business interruption insurance and a variety of other things, but we’ll sort that out in due course,” Emmert said.