GREENSBORO, N.C., MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. and NEW YORK — The NCAA will hold its upcoming events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball championships, without fans, president Mark Emmert announced on Wednesday with most college basketball conference tournaments following suit after the NCAA’s announcement.
The move comes in response to the continued concern surrounding the emergence of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 as a public health threat.
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“I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division-I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance,” Emmert’s statement read. “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. This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”
In addition, the NCAA will attempt to move the Final Four from Mercedes-Benz Stadium into a smaller venue in Atlanta, along with regional sites. First-round sites are expected to be played in scheduled venues.
The Robert Morris men’s basketball team has already cliched a berth in the tournament, and is expected to play in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio next week without fans.
“We’re all figuring it out as we go,” RMU head coach Andy Toole said after his team’s NEC title game win on Tuesday. “We don’t necessarily know what’s right, what’s wrong, and everybody’s trying to make the best decisions possible. Everybody associated with the NCAA Tournament will do the same.”
Toole added that he hopes that family members of players and coaches will be allowed to attend games and that he won’t let the prospect of playing without fans get the Colonials’ down about their return to the event.
“We’re just happy to be playing,” Toole added. “Whatever goes on outside of that, we can’t worry about it. We’re going to be ready to play, whoever our opponent is, wherever they send us. We’re just happy to put the jersey on one more day.”
NC State coach Kevin Keatts, whose Wolfpack may have secured an NCAA Tournament berth with a win over Pitt, reacted to the news that the tournament will played without fans.
“It’s a serious problem, and it’s not an athletic problem,” Keatts said. “It’s a problem all across the country, and so I don’t think anybody here or anybody in the sports world should obviously complain about what the people that know what’s going on will decide to do.
“In our situation, we’ll play wherever they tell us, but we also want to make sure that our kids and our coaches are all protected and are safe. I don’t really have a true answer other than I’m not the smartest guy when it comes to this. I’m going to listen to the people that’s above us, and wherever they tell us to go, wherever they tell us to play, or if it’s fans or not fans, we’ll do it.”
Major conference tournament games, including Pitt’s game Wednesday in the ACC Tournament were played as scheduled, but the ACC will go without fans beginning on Thursday, as will the Atlantic 10, AAC, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12, SEC and other conferences.
The Robert Morris women, who will host the NEC semifinal at UPMC Events Center on Thursday, will do so with limited attendance, and that policy will remain in place if they advance to Saturday’s NEC final.
The NIT will still be played, but without fans, according to Andy Katz of NCAA.com. The CBI has announced that its tournament will not be played.
The Ivy League canceled its conference basketball tournaments, sending regular-season champs to the NCAA Tournament in place, and has also canceled all spring sports. Other leagues, such as the MAC and Big West, are playing conference basketball tournaments without fans in attendance.
Pitt has extended its spring break an additional week and will transition the university to distance learning, but as of Wednesday afternoon, the school is expected to continue athletics practices and competitions. Pitt did not respond to a request for comment from athletic director Heather Lyke. Pitt’s next home athletics event is a baseball game scheduled for Friday afternoon against Virginia.
Pitt is sending seven wrestlers to the 2020 NCAA Tournament, which was scheduled to be held in front of 40,000 fans at Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium next week. A Pitt athletics spokesperson said there has been no announcement of a potential change in venue for that event.
Duquesne is taking similar steps to delay the return of students to campus after break. The Dukes’ women’s lacrosse game was played as scheduled on Wednesday.
Nate Bell reported from Moon Township, Pa., Alan Saunders reported from Greensboro, N.C., Mike Vukovcan reported from Pittsburgh and Zachary Weiss reported from New York