March Madness will be 'fan free' due to COVID-19
One of the best parts of the NCAA Basketball Tournament is the cheer of the crowds. The eruptions of joy, the cries of despair, the yelling at the referees, the prayers to the heavens and the cursing at how much money you lost adds to the atmosphere that we call March Madness.
This year, however, the only sounds you will hear might be the squeaking of sneakers, the yelling of a coach and the whistles of the refs.
Today, the President of the NCAA, Mark Emmert released a statement saying that both the Men's and Women's Tournaments would be played without crowds. The reason is the continued spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, throughout the United States. As of this writing there were currently 1,200 people that have been affected in over 41 states, with health officials worried that the virus' spread will get worse. Thirty one Americans have died so far, and there are hopes that containment and quarantines will keep the death toll down.
Because of the spread of the virus, the NCAA decided that it was best to keep large crowds away from arenas in order keep people safe. However, they are still holding the games with only players, coaches and essential personnel present. While the reduced number of people would mitigate a larger spread, players and coaches traveling from destination to destination still might be at risk of infection.
As far as families of coaches and players, the NCAA will allow limited family to attend games. This will probably include parents, spouses, significant others and kids. One can assume other than referees, there will also be scorekeepers, facility operations personnel, TV and radio broadcast crews among others.
The United States has already seen several cancellations or postponements from Coachella being pushed back until October, SXSW being canceled in Austin and even the venerable Houston Rodeo being shut down.
But the NCAA Tournaments which generate over a billion dollars yearly for schools, conferences, television stations, corporate sponsors and anyone that's not a player is the biggest event so far impacted by the coronavirus.
The NCAA did have a COVID-19 advisory panel which was monitoring the situation and keeping up to date with the spread of the virus as well as preventive measures taking place around the world.
The move by Italian officials to play Serie-A (Italy's top soccer league) behind closed doors definitely had to play a big part in this decision. Similar moves have been taking place in the Europa tournament. Here in the United States, as conference tournaments started to be played (some teams' way to get into the Big Dance), the Ivy league canceled their tournament outright citing fears of spreading the disease.
Referring to the advisory panel, Emmert said that, "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."
The fallout of this decision is sure to send shockwaves throughout the sports community.
As we speak, baseball is in the middle of spring training with Opening Day set for the end of March. NBA and NHL teams are making pushes to the playoffs and are involved in many make or break games. While the NFL is on draft mode, the XFL's successful first year might take a elbow drop. And depending on how long the virus lingers there is a chance (albeit small) it could have an affect on the Olympics.
From the business side of sports, the impact alone of the NCAA's decision will be far reaching. Hopefully, the virus is contained soon and the impact on businesses won't be as bad as many fear. However, it does show us that TV, not attendance is the new factor in how successful sports organizations are. The fact that they will still hold the tournament and televise it without crowds shows the power that TV rights deals have on the sports. We're just thankful we'll have something to watch if we're quarantined.
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