The NCAA has evaluated a “worst-case scenario” for the upcoming men’s and women’s basketball tournaments that bars spectators from games and pre-screens athletes for illnesses, the NCAA’s chief medical officer said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
The official, Brian Hainline, called the option “very unlikely” and “not a rational strategy” as multiple states have declared emergencies over the uptick in confirmed cases of the coronavirus, COVID-19, including several states set to play host to March Madness games later this month.
“I think a worst-case scenario is that it’s played behind closed doors,” Hainline told the newspaper. “It would be very, very difficult to cancel a championship and have it at any other time.”
The NCAA has issued two memos to member schools with links to resources on travel, coronavirus symptoms and topics to discuss with campus leadership, and last week established an advisory panel composed of medical experts and athlete liaisons “to guide its response to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease.”
In a statement issued on Friday, the advisory panel did not recommend the cancellation or public spacing of athletic and related events.
“The panel members believe that we need to better understand COVID-19 while continuing to work with local, state and federal health authorities such as the CDC,” read the statement. “The key is for all stakeholders and athletes to practice risk mitigation at all events. At present the panel is not recommending cancellation or public spacing of athletic and related events scheduled to occur in public spaces across the United States.”
The men’s tournament is scheduled to begin on March 17 before expanding to the first and second rounds of competition on March 19. The women’s tournament is slated to start on March 20, with opening-round games played on the campuses of the tournament’s top seeds before expanding to regional sites in Texas, Indiana, South Carolina and Oregon.
Division III men’s basketball tournament games held on the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have been played without fans in attendance, a decision made by the university based on guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding large public events.
“In light of Maryland’s recently confirmed cases of COVID-19, and based on CDC guidance for large gatherings, we have determined that it is prudent to hold this tournament without spectators,” the university said in a statement posted on its athletics website.
Many of the states hosting the first and second rounds of the men’s tournament have experienced outbreaks of COVID-19 or, as with New York, have declared states of emergencies. Albany, New York, will host the opening rounds beginning on March 19, and New York City’s Madison Square Garden will host the East Regional one week later.
“There’s no doubt that massive quarantine is the best way to slow the spread,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said Saturday.
Spokane, Washington, will host early rounds as the number of documented cases of COVID-19 in Washington state tops 100, most centered around Seattle and its surrounding suburbs. The University of Washington announced on Friday that it would be moving all classes online for the next three weeks for its 57,000 students.
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