Update: The NCAA announced Thursday afternoon that all 2020 winter and spring championships are now canceled.
Trying to limit contamination
On the same day that the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic, the NCAA announced that both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be held without fans in attendance.
This decision is in the best interest of public health”
One way to slow the spread of the virus is to reduce large, dense gatherings of people. Thousands of fans are known to pack arenas during March Madness.
“This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said.
Stringent measures taken
Only players, coaches, key staff, and limited players’ family members will be permitted at the games. Media access will be limited, but the extent to which has yet to be determined.
Most of the season-ending conference tournaments currently going will be holding fan-less games starting Thursday. The Final Four is to be held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, but the NCAA is looking into holding it at a smaller venue. The same goes for the men’s regional locations at large arenas in major cities. The sites of earlier rounds will stay the same for now.
The NCAA men’s Frozen Four hockey championship in April and the wrestling championship next week are also affected.
Unprecedented situation for sports bettors
Though nowhere near as important as people’s health, one question that arose after the news was announced was how the lack of fans might affect sports betting, betting lines, and the games themselves.
Sports betting analyst Preston Johnson provided his thoughts on ESPN’s “Daily Wager,” noting that it was all speculation because there is no precedent for this.
Perhaps, he added, the favorites, the large programs with massive fan bases, won’t have the advantage of huge crowds cheering for them, thus losing some of that emotional lift. On the other hand, underdogs are often fueled by loud cheering contingents, so they could be hurt by not having fans at the games.
there are so many questions, so many variables that change without fans present
Foul calls could change, as refs won’t be subconsciously affected by the crowds. Technical fouls might increase because it’s easier to hear coaches and players mouthing off. Free-throw percentages could rise without the pressure and distraction of the crowd. That could affect the betting totals, making the overs a better wager.
The bottom line is that there are so many questions, so many variables that change without fans present, that betting could get much more difficult.
Coronavirus numbers continue to climb
As of Wednesday afternoon, the World Health Organization put the number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide at 118,381. There have been 4,292 reported deaths. The confirmed cases in the United States is at 696 with 25 confirmed deaths, but reports from later in the day have the number of cases at over 1,000.
The above numbers put the death rate at over 3 percent, which is extremely high. For comparison, the death rate for influenza is about 0.1 percent.
The elderly and people with serious underlying medical conditions are most at risk. Health officials have stressed the importance for everyone to take prudent precautions to slow the spread of the virus. This will not only protect the most vulnerable, but it will keep medical facilities from being overburdened.