The NCAA made the unprecedented decision Wednesday to hold its men's and women's basketball tournaments without fans because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
"While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States," NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. "This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed."
Emmert told The Associated Press that canceling was considered.
"We recognize our tournaments bring people from all around the country together," Emmert told The AP in a phone interview. "They're not just regional events. They're big national events. It's a very, very hard decision for all the obvious reasons."
Other items Emmert told The AP:
The NCAA is looking into moving the men's Final Four from Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a smaller arena. The NCAA will consider using smaller venues for the men's regionals currently scheduled 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.
All sites for next week's men's games will remain the same unless conditions in those areas force relocation.
Emmert said a protocol for the medical screening of people entering the arenas is still being worked out, along with what constitutes essential staff and how to define family members.
CBS and Turner plan to broadcast the games as usual. Other media members will be allowed into the arenas to cover the games, but how many is still being determined.
Wednesday's decision applies to more than just men's and women's basketball. All NCAA-sponsored championships will be affected, including hockey's Frozen Four (April 9-11 in Detroit) and wrestling (March 19-21 in Minneapolis).
The NCAA announcement came after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he would issue an order that would ban fans from NCAA tournament games in Cleveland and First Four games in Dayton.
Sporting events around the world have been affected by the virus. States and cities have banned large gatherings, leading upcoming NHL games scheduled for Columbus, Ohio, and San Jose, California to be played without fans and baseball's Mariners to say they will move their games out of Seattle for all of March. Later Wednesday, the NBA became the first major American sports league to suspend play because of the pandemic after it announced that a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus.
Many conference tournaments will be played without fans. Also, the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Women's Basketball Coaches Association each canceled their annual Final Four conventions on Wednesday.
March Madness hits another level next week with the start of the NCAA tournament to crown a national champion, one of the most popular events on the American sports calendar.
The 68-team men's field is scheduled to be announced Sunday, and the 64-team women's field is set to be unveiled Monday.
There are eight first- and second-round sites for the men's tournament, scheduled to be played March 19-22. Locations include Cleveland; St. Louis; Albany, New York; Omaha, Nebraska; Sacramento, California; Spokane, Washington; and Tampa, Florida.
The four regional sites for the second weekend of the tournament are Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Houston and New York. The Final Four is scheduled to be held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, with the semifinals on April 4 and the championship game April 6.
The women's tournament first- and second-round games begin March 21 and will be played at 16 sites, mostly on or close to the campuses of the top-seeded teams. The regionals will be played in Dallas; Greenville, South Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Final Four will be held in New Orleans on April 3 and 5.
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.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.