The NCAA said Wednesday that March Madness — the colloquial term for its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — would take place in empty arenas to stem the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “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.”
— NCAA (@NCAA) March 11, 2020
He added that while it was “disappointing” to have to play the tournaments without fans watching live, doing so was “in the best interest of public health.”
The announcement comes after the NCAA formed an advisory panel of epidemiology and public-health experts on Tuesday to review the situation and “make decisions in the coming days.” It had seemed increasingly in recent days that the tournaments would be played without fans, as multiple municipalities declared public-health emergencies and banned large public gatherings.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday that he recommended “there not be large crowds” while officials try to contain the virus.
“If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it. But as a public-health official, anything that has large crowds is something that would give a risk to spread,” he said. “We have to change our behavior. We have to basically assume that we’re going to get hit.”