Virus im­pacts sport­ing events

Col­lege hoops: Only es­sen­tial staff, lim­ited fam­ily at NCAA tour­neys

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Ralph D. Russo

The buzzer-beat­ers, up­sets and all the other shin­ing mo­ments of this year’s NCAA tour­na­ments will be played in mostly empty are­nas.

Try­ing to avoid spread­ing the new coro­n­avirus that has be­come a global pan­demic, the NCAA de­cided the men’s and women’s tour­na­ment games will be off-lim­its to the gen­eral public.

NCAA Pres­i­dent Mark Em­mert said Wed­nes­day that he made the de­ci­sion to con­duct both tour­na­ments, which be­gin next week, with only es­sen­tial staff and lim­ited fam­ily in at­ten­dance. The de­ci­sion comes af­ter the NCAA’s COVID-19 ad­vi­sory panel of med­i­cal ex­perts rec­om­mended against play­ing sport­ing events open to the gen­eral public.

Em­mert told The As­so­ci­ated Press that can­cel­ing the tour­na­ment was con­sid­ered.

“The de­ci­sion was based on

a com­bi­na­tion of the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by na­tional and state of­fi­cials, by the ad­vi­sory team that we put to­gether of med­i­cal ex­perts from across the coun­try, and look­ing at what was go­ing to be in the best in­ter­est of our stu­dent-ath­letes, of course,” Em­mert told the AP in an phone in­ter­view. “But also the public health im­pli­ca­tions of all of this. We rec­og­nize our tour­na­ments bring peo­ple from all around the coun­try to­gether. They’re not just re­gional events. They’re big na­tional events. It’s a very, very hard de­ci­sion for all the ob­vi­ous rea­sons.”

Em­mert said the NCAA wants to move the men’s Fi­nal Four on April 4 and 6 from At­lanta’s MercedesBe­nz Sta­dium to a smaller arena in the area. The NCAA also will con­sider us­ing smaller venues for sec­ond-week re­gional sites cur­rently set to be played at the Toy­ota Cen­ter in Hous­ton, Madi­son Square Gar­den in New York, Sta­ples Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les and Lu­cas Oil Sta­dium in In­di­anapo­lis.

“We have to de­ter­mine the avail­abil­ity of the sites, ob­vi­ously, but it doesn’t make good sense to have a foot­ball sta­dium be empty,” Em­mert said.

All sites for next week’s men’s games will re­main the same un­less con­di­tions in those ar­eas force re­lo­ca­tion, he said.

Plans for re­fund­ing tick­ets pur­chased in ad­vance were be­ing worked out.

First- and sec­ond-round sites for the women’s tour­na­ment will be­come of­fi­cial next week. Those games are usu­ally played at or near the cam­puses of the highly seeded teams.

“It’s re­ally sad. Ob­vi­ously it’s dis­ap­point­ing for all our fans,” said Louisville women’s coach Jeff Walz, whose team is ranked No. 6 in the lat­est AP poll. “At the same time I com­pletely un­der­stand for the health and safety of the fans and stu­dent-ath­letes and ev­ery­one in­volved.”

Walz said the univer­sity al­ready had sold more than 4,000 tick­ets for the fir­stand sec­ond-round ses­sions.

The de­ci­sion ap­plies to more than just men’s and women’s bas­ket­ball. All NCAA-spon­sored cham­pi­onships in­clud­ing hockey’s Frozen Four will be af­fected.

But the men’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment is the crown jewel, one of the most pop­u­lar events on the Amer­i­can sports cal­en­dar. March Mad­ness draws hun­dreds of thou­sands of fans to are­nas from coast to coast. The men’s tour­na­ment gen­er­ated more than $900 mil­lion in rev­enue last year for the NCAA and its mem­bers, though the ma­jor­ity of that was from a me­dia rights deal with CBS and Turner that pays about $800 bil­lion per year.

“We’re like any en­ter­prise of this size, we have busi­ness in­ter­rup­tion in­sur­ance, and a va­ri­ety of other things but we’ll sort that out in due course,” Em­mert said.

Em­mert said CBS and Turner plan to broad­cast the games us usual. Other me­dia mem­bers will be al­lowed into the are­nas to cover the games, but how many is still be­ing de­ter­mined, he said.

Em­mert said a pro­to­col for the med­i­cal screen­ing of peo­ple en­ter­ing the are­nas is still be­ing worked out, too, along with what con­sti­tutes es­sen­tial staff (bands? cheer­lead­ers?) and how to de­fine fam­ily mem­bers.

For most peo­ple, the new coro­n­avirus causes only mild or mod­er­ate symp­toms, such as fever and cough. For some, es­pe­cially older adults and peo­ple with ex­ist­ing health prob­lems, it can cause more se­vere ill­ness, in­clud­ing pneu­mo­nia. The vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple re­cover from the virus.

Around the coun­try, many col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in re­cent days have been shift­ing to vir­tual classes and telling stu­dents to ex­tend their spring breaks, en­cour­ag­ing them to stay away from cam­pus.

“A num­ber of schools, in­clud­ing schools that their pres­i­dent are on our board, have in­deed closed down cam­puses and made other ac­com­mo­da­tions and so it was part of the dis­cus­sions,” Em­mert said. “And peo­ple rec­og­niz­ing they were mak­ing those de­ci­sions for good rea­sons, and doesn’t that logic con­tinue over to ath­letic com­pe­ti­tions?”

The 68-team field for the men’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment is sched­uled to be an­nounced Sun­day and the 64-team women’s tour­na­ment field is to be un­veiled Mon­day. Games be­gin Tues­day and Wed­nes­day on the men’s side in Day­ton, Ohio, where ear­lier in the day the gov­er­nor said he would is­sue an or­der to re­strict spec­ta­tor ac­cess to in­door sport­ing events.

The Mid-Amer­i­can Con­fer­ence on Tues­day an­nounced it was clos­ing its men’s and women’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment games at Cleve­land’s Rocket Mort­gage Field­House, home of the NBA’s Cleve­land Cava­liers and sched­uled site of the men’s NCAA games, to the gen­eral public. The women’s tour­na­ment started Wed­nes­day.

The Big West Con­fer­ence an­nounced a sim­i­lar move, not al­low­ing the gen­eral public into its bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment games to be played this week at the Honda Cen­ter in Anaheim.

ERIC GAY — AP, FILE

NCAA Pres­i­dent Mark Em­mert says NCAA Divi­sion I bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment games will be played with­out fans.

KEITH SRAKOCIC — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

The NCAA will con­sider us­ing smaller venues for re­gional sites cur­rently sched­uled to be played at the Toy­ota Cen­ter in Hous­ton; Madi­son Square Gar­den in New York; Sta­ples Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les and Lu­cas Oil Sta­dium in In­di­anapo­lis.

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