Coronavirus: NCAA Bans Fans From March Madness Basketball Tournaments

  • NCAA also eliminating crowds from hockey and wrestling championships
  • Only players, some family members, coaches, and key staff permitted; media access limited
  • No precedent for sports betting, unknown how game results might be affected
  • Worldwide coronavirus cases into six figures, U.S. cases over 1,000 and growing
March Madness basketball on a basketball court
The NCAA has announced that no fans will be permitted to attend March Madness basketball games in an attempt to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

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.

Emmert said some consideration was given to cancelling the tournaments altogether. Many in the sports industry think that will still happen, especially after the NBA decided on Wednesday night to suspend its season. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with coronavirus and multiple teams were quarantined in their locker rooms.

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 difficulty coronavirus is presenting is that it is quite contagious and has a high mortality rate so far. Most cases are either asymptomatic or mild, but that also presents a problem because people may carry the virus without knowing it. Symptoms also don’t typically show up for several days. The U.S., in particular, is also behind the curve in tackling the spread of the virus, with the availability of testing kits severely lacking.

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.