NCAA closes March Madness games to public; advises limiting attendance at all college sports

NCAA basketball tournament games are scheduled to begin next week. (Source: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

(Gray News) - The NCAA has announced that although March Madness basketball tournament games will carry on as scheduled, only essential personnel and family members will be allowed to attend due to the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

NCAA president Mark Emmert made the announcement Wednesday, saying, “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.”

Emmert also says the NCAA is looking into moving the men’s Final Four from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a smaller arena. The tournaments begin next week.

The NCAA is also recommending that schools limit all collegiate sports to essential personnel and family members due to the coronavirus.

The Big 12 and Big Ten basketball tournaments will proceed without fans beginning with Thursday's games, following the lead of the NCAA Tournament in barring anybody but family and essential personnel. Each conference started Wednesday's tournament games with fans in attendance.

Going forward, Big 12 teams will be allowed 125 tickets on a game-by-game basis beginning with Thursday's quarterfinals at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The arena will be cleared after each game.

The tickets will go to guests of student-athletes and staff members, but pep bands, cheerleaders and dance teams won't be allowed.

At the Big Ten tourney in Indianapolis, attendance starting Thursday will be limited to student-athletes, coaches, event staff, essential team and conference staff, TV network partners, credentialed media and immediate family members of the participating teams.

The Big 12 policy also will be in place for its women's tournament, which begins Thursday night in Kansas City.

“The attempt is to absolutely minimize the number of people here but still find a way to conduct events and actually get the opportunity to play games,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsy said.

The Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament joined the Big 12 and Big Ten in playing without fans starting with Thursday’s quarterfinal round.
The league announced the decision in a statement Wednesday
evening. That came late on the second day of the five-day event, after fans had attended four full games and half of the Boston College-Notre Dame game at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The league cited the “rapidly changing landscape regarding COVID-19,” saying games would be played only with teams, player guests, limited school administrators and credentialed media present.

Thursday’s games are the first to feature the top seeds in No. 4 Florida State, No. 10 Duke, No. 15 Louisville and No. 17 Virginia.

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