For the first time ever, “March Madness,” the NCAA basketball tournament, will be played in nearly empty arenas to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The NCAA has ruled that, as a precaution, only limited family members of players and coaches will be permitted to watch the action from the bleachers.
Meanwhile, the National Basketball Association (NBA) shocked the sports world Wednesday night when it suspended the remainder of the 2020 season. The league took the action after a player on the Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert, tested positive for COVID-19.
The actions by the collegiate and professional basketball leagues are a precaution taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) as other events gathering large numbers of people are being canceled or postponed.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said he consulted with a number of public health officials and the league’s COVID-19 advisory panel about a proper course of action.
“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 said in a statement. “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.”
Various conference tournaments, which started Wednesday, were also affected by the spectator ban. The Ivy League took the additional step of canceling its tournament, and the Big Ten, SEC, and American leagues have followed suit.
Best interest of public safety
Emmert said he thinks the decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, the players on the floor.
“We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families,” he said. “Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed.”
The statement did not say whether fans who have purchased tickets to tournament games well in advance will receive refunds. Presumably, they will, although the current NCAA policy makes that far from clear.
“If the event is canceled, we ask you to send us a request for reimbursement, accompanied by your name and the order number,” Ticketmaster says on its website. “We will cancel the order in your name and the amount you have paid will be paid to the credit card with which you have made the purchase by the deadline.”
Stubhub, a marketplace for second-hand ticket sales, says its FanProtect Guarantee protects every purchase.
“The ticket you’ve purchased on our site will get you into the event or your money back,” the company said. Late Wednesday, a Stubhub spokesman confirmed to ConsumerAffairs that the FanProtect Guarantee covers the new NCAA tournament policy.
The businesses in the tournaments’ host cities will not likely be as lucky. Thousands of free-spending fans normally descend on these cities, spending money in bars, restaurants, hotels, and with Uber drivers and airlines.
Yahoo Finance calls March Madness “the NCAA’s bread and butter,” generating $1 billion in revenue, though a sizable portion of that is for TV rights, which become all the more important for fans who can’t see the games in person.
For the men’s tournament teams will be selected on Sunday. Tournament games, starting next week, will be televised by CBS, TBS, TNT, and True TV.