The NCAA basketball tournaments are on — for now — though the buzzer-beaters, upsets and all the other shining moments will take place in mostly empty arenas.
Trying to avoid spreading the new coronavirus that has become a global pandemic, the NCAA on Wednesday decided the men’s and women’s Division I tournament games will be off-limits to the general public. The major college conferences followed the NCAA’s lead, one by one announcing their league tournaments would go on the rest of the week with restricted fan access.
The NCAA’s plan is to conduct both tournaments, which begin next week, with only essential staff and limited family in attendance.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said the NCAA wants to move the men’s Final Four on April 4 and 6 from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz 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.
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 National Association of Basketball Coaches canceled its convention Wednesday night, which was scheduled to be held in Atlanta during Final Four weekend.
There are eight first- and second-round sites for the men’s tournament, scheduled to be played March 19-22. Locations include Cleveland; Spokane, Washington; Albany, New York; Sacramento, California; and Omaha, Nebraska.
The women’s tournament first- and second-round games begin March 21 and will be played at 16 sites. The second-week regionals will be played in Dallas; Greenville, South Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Final Four will be held at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans where the NBA’s Pelicans play on April 3 and 5.
Emmert said because of the outbreak the situation remains fluid.