The global coronavirus pandemic has canceled March Madness, the NCAA said Thursday in a jarring decision that landed one day after the association declared plans to stage its marquee basketball tournament inside empty arenas next week.
"This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities," the NCAA said in a statement. The NCAA also scrapped its remaining winter and spring championships, in addition to the men's and women's Division I basketball tournaments.
Clear signs of tournament tension emerged hours before the NCAA’s formal announcement, when college athletics conferences outright canceled ongoing basketball tournaments because of the viral outbreak — even after several organizations initially insisted they would play on behind closed doors.
By the time officials from Kansas and Duke suspended all school athletic activities Thursday, the tournament's future looked to be all but settled. Then the Atlantic Coast Conference indefinitely suspended participation in NCAA championships. Even celebrated hoops broadcaster Dick Vitale called on NCAA President Mark Emmert to stop the competition.
American sports have ground to a halt in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. Major League Baseball suspended spring training and delayed the start of its regular season. The National Hockey League suspended its season. The NBA also indefinitely postponed its season after players tested positive for the virus.
The NCAA was left to weigh carrying out its championships even as sweeping numbers of U.S. colleges and universities cancel in-person classes, limit nonessential travel, discourage large gatherings, and even postpone or cancel competitions in other sports. Hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the NCAA are at stake, plus uncertain economic implications for cities that expected to host college basketball’s biggest event.
Several of those conferences had just announced on Wednesday that they would continue playing without thousands of fans in attendance, mirroring the NCAA’s first momentous decision this week.
That also included the Big East Conference, but even that organization reportedly canceled its competition at Madison Square Garden at halftime of a scheduled contest Thursday afternoon.