The NCAA announced Wednesday that March Madness will go on as planned, but fans won’t be allowed to attend because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
Only essential staff members and family members can attend, the NCAA said in its statement, which came just hours after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, known as Covid-19, a pandemic.
“This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families.”
With the tournament less than a week away, the NCAA had been looking into alternative plans to keep the disease from spreading at its games. The tournament is scheduled to begin March 17 in Dayton, Ohio.
Emmert said the NCAA made its choice after consulting with public health officials and a NCAA-appointed coronavirus advisory panel. There are now more than 1,100 cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the United States.
The NCAA Covid-19 advisory panel recommended that all upcoming sporting events also be held without spectators.
Some teams had already canceled their plans to travel for games as a precautionary measure.
Last week, Chicago State University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Division I basketball programs canceled their road trips to Seattle University.
The National College Players Association (NCPA) had asked the NCAA in February to discuss potentially having its tournament without spectators due to coronavirus fears.
“Precautions should include canceling all auxiliary events that put players in contact with crowds such as meet and greets and press events,” the NCPA said in a statement last month. “Athletic programs should also take every possible measure to sanitize buses and airplanes used to transport players.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was among those to express her disappointment at the NCAA’s decision. The 2020 NCAA Final Four, which comprises of the final two rounds of the Division I men’s basketball tournament, was scheduled to take place in Atlanta the first weekend of April.
“While we are disappointed, we respect the decision of the NCAA and agree that public health and safety are our priority,” Lance Bottoms said in a statement.
The mayor encouraged Atlantans and visitors to continue to frequent local businesses and “tip a little extra to ease any burdens” on people in the service and hospitality industries who may be affected by the decision.
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