After consulting with public health officials and its own advisory panel on the spread of the coronavirus, the NCAA announced that it will restrict access to upcoming championship events, including both the men’s and women’s NCAA Division I basketball tournaments.
March Madness, one of the most popular college sporting events in the world, will be played in front of only essential staff members and select family members this season.
“Based on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA Board of Governors, 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,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement.
The announcement comes after the ACC originally announced on Tuesday that it would proceed with its conference tournament normally.
After releasing a statement Wednesday evening saying that the Wednesday night games would proceed as normal, the league released an additional statement Wednesday night saying that ACC Tournament games scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday would have limited attendees.
“After consultation with the league’s presidents and athletic directors, it was determined that beginning Thursday, March 12, all games will be played with only essential tournament personnel, limited school administrators and student-athlete guests, broadcast television and credentialed media members present,” the statement said.
Virginia opens ACC Tournament play Thursday night at 7 p.m.
The NCAA’s decision comes hours after conferences took drastic measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In addition to the ACC’s decision, the Ivy League announced Wednesday that it was cancelling all spring sports competitions and practices.
The Virginia baseball team had two games scheduled with Cornell at the end of the month, and the Ivy League is one of the nation’s best leagues in men’s lacrosse.
Top-tier teams such as Cornell, Princeton and Yale will no longer play this season.
The Virginia men’s basketball team, which won the national championship a season ago and is NCAA Tournament bound this season, will try to defend its title in front of largely empty arenas.
“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,” Emmert said in his statement. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and most importantly, our student-athletes.”
Emmert did add that he expects the championships to still occur, but that the NCAA is going to monitor information and make adjustments as needed.
The First Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament begins Tuesday, and Round 1 begins two days later on March 19. The event lasts through April 6.
The decision by the NCAA also comes after some universities across the U.S. adjusted their class schedules.
UVa, which is currently on spring break, cancelled in-person classes “for the foreseeable future, quite possibly through the end of the semester.” Online classes begin March 19 for UVa students.
UVa also wrote in its announcement that there were no changes to athletic events at this time, but that restrictions would be considered.
According to a spokesperson, Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall has “informed the team there will be no football activities until further notice.” Spring practice was scheduled to open on March 24.