Ivy League cancels conference basketball tournaments because of coronavirus

Ivy League cancels conference tourneys, could NCAA tourneys be next? (1:28)

Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman react to the Ivy League canceling its conference basketball tournaments due to the coronavirus crisis. (1:28)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The Ivy League canceled its men's and women's basketball conference tournaments Tuesday because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

The four-team tournaments were scheduled to be played Friday through Sunday at Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge. The Ivy League instead will award its automatic NCAA tournament bids to the regular-season champions, the Princeton women and Yale men.

The tournaments are the first at the Division I basketball level to be canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Conference tournaments have been going on all over the country since last week at venues big and small. Most of the biggest conferences, such as the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, begin their men's tournaments this week at large arenas in major cities.

The NCAA men's and women's Division I tournaments begin next week. The NCAA said in a statement Tuesday that it plans to play its games at the planned sites as scheduled with no adjustments to fan access.

"NCAA member schools and conferences make their own decisions regarding regular-season and conference tournament play," the NCAA said. "As we have stated, we will make decisions on our events based on the best, most current public health guidance available. Neither the NCAA COVID-19 advisory panel, made up of leading public health and infectious disease experts in America, nor the CDC or local health officials have advised against holding sporting events. In the event circumstances change, we will make decisions accordingly."

The Ivy League also announced Tuesday it will limit spectators at all other sporting events for the rest of the spring season. Cornell announced consequently that fans will not be allowed to attend the NCAA quarterfinal game for its women's hockey team or the ECAC quarterfinal game for its men's hockey team.

The Princeton, New Jersey-based league said the decision was made in "accordance with the guidance of public health and medical professionals to discourage and limit large gatherings on campuses in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation."

For most people, the 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.

Ivy League executive director Robin Harris said in a statement that the league shares the disappointment of players and coaches.

"Regrettably, the information and recommendations presented to us from public health authorities and medical professionals have convinced us that this is the most prudent decision," she said.

Harris said the decision wasn't about the location. It was about "the gathering of a group that would be larger than our schools are allowing on their campus for nonathletic events,'' she said.

Harris said a gym without fans would still have too many people in the building because of the travel parties of the eight teams and those working the event.

The league said all tickets will be refunded, and ticket holders with questions should contact the Harvard ticket office.

The Ivy League women's tournament was scheduled to be played Friday night, with top-seeded Princeton facing Columbia and No. 2 seed Penn facing Yale. The winners were to meet in the championship game on Saturday at 5 p.m.

Columbia, which was to play in the women's tournament for the first time, was about to start practice when coach Megan Griffith shared the news.

"Their hearts are broken. Completely devastated. They should be,'' Griffith said. "We understand there are health risks. This is not something to be lightly taken. We don't know what alternatives were discussed. It's hard to swallow.''

The league held a conference call Monday with coaches and other school staff to go over tournament logistics. Penn women's basketball coach Mike McLaughlin said that it was a "typical call where you say what you're supposed to say.''

"There was not a great deal of depth behind it. I think we all knew something was going to change. It wasn't going to sit the way it was a year ago. I didn't sense it would be canceled outright.''

When McLaughlin learned of the cancellation, he quickly called his team together so players could find out from him and not through social media.

"When [McLaughlin] said it, I was in immediate shock,'' Penn senior Kendall Grasela said. "We get the bid to the WNIT but don't get a chance to compete for an NCAA slot. ... I broke down, I could have played my last college game and not even known that.''

Grasela talked to the other team captains. The group reached out to the other Ivy League schools and has started an an online petition to get the tournament reinstated.

McLaughlin, Griffith and Grasela were all upset about what they see as inconsistencies in the league because other sports are still able to play this weekend and beyond while basketball is not.

"It's difficult to swallow. That's what we're trying to deal with," McLaughlin said. "We're not able to play and now they are finding other sports are able to play. There's an inconsistency of messages.''

The men's tournament was set to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday with top-seeded Yale playing Penn, followed by No. 2 seed Harvard facing Princeton. The men's championship game was scheduled for Sunday.

"It's a bittersweet moment for us," Yale spokesman Mike Gambardella said. "We're happy our men will get an [automatic bid] but disappointed that our women won't be able to compete for a championship."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.