March has never seen such madness.
The NCAA made the difficult and unprecedented decision Wednesday to ban fans from attending its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments due to the coronavirus pandemic. Essential staff and family will be permitted to attend the games, though the NCAA will continue to monitor the crisis and make changes as needed.
Though currently unlikely, the NCAA reportedly hasn’t ruled out the possibility of postponing or cancelling the event entirely because of the uncertainty amid the disease’s rapid spread.
“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.
“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.”
The NCAA followed the lead of various teams and leagues around the world, but made the boldest move in American sports, hinting at a potential trend across the nation.
Before the unprecedented announcement, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order that would have prevented fans in Dayton and Cleveland from attending tournament games. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also announced a restriction of gatherings of more than 250 people in three Seattle-area counties.
The Ivy League canceled both its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as well as all spring sports. The College Basketball Invitational was also canceled. The Golden State Warriors announced they would play in front of no fans in their new arena, joining multiple European soccer teams and college basketball conference tournaments. Several American colleges and universities have already closed their campuses, instructing students not to return from spring break and finish their semesters through online coursework.
The NCAA had formed an advisory panel to assess the increasing danger and most conference tournaments began with no restrictions regarding who could enter an arena, though the Big Ten and Big 12 adopted the no-fan stance of the NCAA Tournament soon after the announcement.
Coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic on Wednesday, having afflicted more than 100,000 people worldwide in at least 83 countries, including more than 1,000 in the United States. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recommended against large crowds at sporting events while speaking on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
“Obviously it’s a little shocking right now, but I think they’re doing what they think they need to do to still run the tournament,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “I think they’re being proactive and let’s make sure we can run the best tournament possible.”
The first and second rounds — as well as the First Four beginning in Dayton on Tuesday — of the NCAA’s flagship event will remain at their current sites, though attempts are currently being made to move the men’s Final Four and Regionals to smaller venues. If the East Regional at Madison Square Garden is moved out of MSG, the games would still expected to be played elsewhere in New York City.
Even with the absence of the incredible atmospheres at each site, Villanova coach Jay Wright understands the decision and still expects great games.
“When we play those preseason scrimmages, Villanova’s playing North Carolina, it’s a pretty big game and the competition is still high level,” Wright said. “The fans don’t affect the competitiveness.”
For seniors like Myles Powell, the scene won’t be as he imagined. But the dream still remains.
“You gotta go out there and play. Fans in there or not, for you to move on you gotta win and I’m not trying to have my senior year end early,” the Seton Hall star said. “I know for sure I’m gonna have my guys ready to play. I don’t care if we gotta play outside in the park. We gotta be ready.”