The NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament, one of the nation’s most-watched TV sporting events, will be played this year in mostly empty arenas out of concerns for the widening coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, the advisory panel recommend against sporting events open to the public, suggesting “events can take place with only essential personnel and limited family attendance,” which “protects the players, employees and fans.”
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That stance had been different only the day before, but more public events are being canceled by the hour owing to the rising cases of COVID-19. The CDC says there are almost 1,000 cases in the U.S. now in 39 states, with 29 confirmed deaths. The global total of deaths just crossed 4,000.
The 68-team men’s tournament kicks of March 17 and March 18 with play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, the first of 13 cities hosting games this year. The tournament is being televised by CBS Sports and Turner as part of their current 14-year $10.8 billion rights deal. That’s been renewed though 2032 at more than $1B a year.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
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