In a major development, the NCAA March 11 announced that its forthcoming National Championship Basketball Tournament, a.k.a. “March Madness,” will be played in largely empty arenas as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The tournament — which brought in $1 billion of revenue during the 2016-17 school year, most of which was generated by the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on broadcast, pay-TV and streaming — is the highest-profile event in the United States to be impacted by the coronavirus.
The NCAA said it was assessing the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and its COVID-19 advisory panel.
As a precaution, Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA and the NCAA board of governors, made the decision to conduct the 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,” Emmert said in a statement. “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 World Health Organization has called the coronavirus a pandemic as more than 120,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease globally and the death toll stands above 4,300. In the United States there are more than 31 deaths and about 1,000 people diagnosed with the virus.