The NCAA will hold its upcoming championship tournaments, including the men’s and women’s March Madness basketball tournaments, without fans in attendance in response to the coronavirus pandemic and to prevent further spread of the virus, the organization announced Wednesday. The Pac-12 Conference followed suit a few hours later by banning fans from the men’s basketball Pac-12 Tournament.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement that the NCAA Tournaments will still take place but that attendance will be limited to family and essential staff and personnel. Games will still be televised as originally planned, but the NCAA is still working to determine the extent to which other media will be allowed into the venues.
“While I understand how disappointing this is for all of our fans, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States,” Emmert said in the statement. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”
Emmert said the decision was advised by public health officials and the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel and was reached after discussion with the NCAA Board of Governors.
The Pac-12 Conference released a statement Tuesday announcing that fans would be in attendance at the conference tournament in Las Vegas and that increased hygiene measures would be taken, including increased access to hand sanitizer around T-Mobile Arena and frequent disinfectant and cleaning procedures throughout the stadium.
But after the NCAA’s decision, the conference decided to not allow fans to attend the tournament, according to a Pac-12 statement later Wednesday.
“While we understand the disruption this will cause to our many fans, we have made this decision in an effort to do our part in helping to limit the spread of the virus and in the interest of the health and safety of our student-athletes, campus communities, working and volunteer event personnel and all those who attend Pac-12 events,” the statement read.
The USC men’s basketball team is expected to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament this Selection Sunday, which will be the team’s first March Madness appearance since 2017.
“I just think everybody’s going to be depressed,” senior forward Nick Rakocevic said, according to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just going to be a different mentality for people, it’s just going to be not as fun. I don’t think guys are going to be as juiced up to play.”
Senior guard Jonah Mathews added that the NCAA Tournament will feel similar to practice without fans in attendance.
“We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families,” the statement read. “Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed.”
More than 1,000 people in 41 different states have tested positive for coronavirus as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the New York Times, but the number of cases in the United States is estimated to be much higher. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak as a global pandemic Wednesday.
USC Athletics banned fan attendance at all home games from Wednesday through March 29 in response to the spread of the virus, according to a statement sent Tuesday.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include information about the Pac-12 Conference prohibiting fan attendance at the men’s basketball Pac-12 Tournament.