March Madness is one of the biggest collegiate sporting events in the year, and it might just be cancelled over coronavirus. To be clear, nothing has changed about the schedule for the upcoming basketball tournaments for both men and women. But given the recent cancellation of the Ivy League conference tournament due to coronavirus fears, it’s totally possible that March Madness could be cancelled, delayed, or just plain altered, in terms of how spectators get to watch the game.
NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline broke down a few possible scenarios for how the basketball tournament, set to start next week, will play out. To CNN, he said,
“Let’s say that we discover that COVID-19 is an illness where the public health is really threatened. The only people that are in the building are the players and the referees and the necessary personnel. The fans aren’t there and we know that the risk mitigation is superb and that the people there are without risk of transmission… We painted all of those scenarios and so we’re prepared for that.”
Here’s what you need to know:
The NCAA Has Established a Coronavirus Advisory Panel for March Madness
As of March 10, the NCAA is moving full steam ahead with the tournament, and taking as many precautions along the way. On March 3, the coronavirus advisory panel was established, which aims to monitor the spread and ongoing threat of coronavirus in the United States. It’s comprised of public health and security experts, as well as former student athletes to represent the students.
Donald Remy, NCAA chief operating officer, said in a NCAA press release, “Today we are planning to conduct our championships as planned, however, we are evaluating the COVID-19 situation daily and will make decisions accordingly.”
Hainline added in the same release, “We are actively monitoring COVID-19 in the United States and will make recommendations on competition based on the evolving medical protocols established by the CDC, NIH and state and local authorities. We are in daily contact with the CDC and are advising leadership on the Association’s response to this outbreak.”
What makes March Madness a particularly challenging event to consider, in the context of coronavirus, is how complex it is on an organizational level. Unlike festivals like Coachella or SXSW, March Madness decisions require the coordination of multiple cities, multiple teams, and hundreds of thousands of die-hard alums, who want to cheer on their teams.
Of course, it’s hugely unlikely that the conference itself will be cancelled. The most likely “worst case scenario” is that teams play one another in empty stadiums, and fans have to watch everything from home.
The NCPA Has Formally Requested All March Madness Games Play Without a Public Audience
On February 29, the National College Players Association (NCPA) released a formal statement requesting that there be a “serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present.”
The statement read in part,
“In the wake of the emerging coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA and its colleges should take precautions to protect college athletes. They should also make public which actions will be taken and when. Precautions should include cancelling all auxiliary events that put players in contact with crowds such as meet and greets and press events. Athletic programs should also take every possible measure to sanitize buses and airplanes used to transport players.”