Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, March Madness tournaments will be held without an audience this month, according to a statement released by National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) President Mark Emmert.
Just hours after the Golden State Warriors announced that they will play in an empty Chase Center on Thursday, abiding by suggested crowd-gathering recommendations by the World Health Organization and the County of San Francisco, the NCAA made a similar call.
“Based on [the public health officials and the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel’s 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,” reads Emmert’s statement.
— NCAA (@NCAA) March 11, 2020
The NCAA is the regulatory body behind student-athletes in the United States, and their announcement today marks a historic first. Played annually, the NCAA’s March Madness (Men’s Division 1 Basketball tournament) is a wildly exciting double-elimination tournament featuring the country’s best collegiate basketball teams.
“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,” adds Emmert. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”
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Since its inception in 1939, the NCAA March Madness tournament has risen in popularity in both viewership and attendance. In 2019, 689,753 people attended the tournament in Minneapolis, with a record 72,711 single-day attendance.
Slated to start in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 17 with the First-Four, this year’s competition will mark the first time in tournament history that March Madness will be closed off to the public.
Growing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus have begun affecting regions all around the United States. In the wake of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic, the sports world has begun to heed the warnings and restrictions set by counties, and local governments.
The NHL, NBA, MLS, and MLB have all banned media from their locker-rooms in order to provide less opportunity for clustering of people.