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NCAA Tournament to be held without spectators due to COVID-19 concerns

With the World Health Organization officially declaring COVID-19 as a pandemic on Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA is taking their own measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

The NCAA made a decision on Wednesday afternoon to hold all NCAA Tournament games without spectators present. At the time of publishing, the organization has not made any further decisions regarding the future of the tournament, however as member conferences including the SEC, Big10, ACC and many others have cancelled their basketball tournaments, with many including the SEC suspending all athletic events for a period of time.

The organization formed a COVID-19 Advisory Panel in late February amid early stages of the outbreak. On Saturday, the panel released a statement saying they were not yet recommending cancelations or other measures to be taken for upcoming games. By Wednesday, their message changed.

“The NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel recognizes the fluidity of COVID-19 and its impact on hosting events in a public space. COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in the United States, and behavioral risk mitigation strategies are the best option for slowing the spread of this disease,” the panel said in a statement. “We recommend against sporting events open to the public. We do believe sport events can take place with only essential personnel and limited family attendance, and this protects our players, employees, and fans.”

Following recommendations from their own panel, NCAA president Mark Emmert made the decision to officially play all upcoming NCAA Tournament games without fans in the arenas.

Below is Emmert’s full statement:

“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. 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. 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.”