Coronavirus has finally crept into the United States. The epidemic that originally seemed to be far away has inevitably begun to cause chaos in the States. Similar to how grocery stores around the nation are preparing for a spike in demand for supplies, the sports industry also has to brace itself for the consequences of the virus.
The most recent and potentially most impactful effect of the virus’s spread is the idea of holding the famed March Madness men’s basketball tournament behind closed doors.
On Feb. 29, the National College Players Association became one of the first organizations to make a public statement on this issue:
“In the wake of the emerging coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA and its colleges should take precautions to protect college athletes. They should also make public which actions will be taken and when. Precautions should include cancelling all auxiliary events that put players in contact with crowds such as meet and greets and press events. Athletic programs should also take every possible measure to sanitize buses and airplanes used to transport players.
In regard to the NCAA’s March Madness Tournament and other athletic events, there should be a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present.”
This would be a major change. The single-elimination tournament is one of the most renowned sporting events in the United States because of die-hard college fans and the tension created when two teams clash with the pride of each school on the line. One of the most important, if not the most important, aspects of college basketball is the atmosphere of the stadium. It is nearly impossible to imagine March Madness without an audience to create the atmosphere that has made the tournament so popular.
The outbreak of coronavirus, however, is considered a legitimate threat to public safety, and it is vital for people to be even more cautious to try and prevent further infection.
“Community-level nonpharmaceutical intervention might include school dismissals and social distancing in other settings (e.g., postponement or cancellation of mass gatherings and telework and remote-meeting options in workplaces),” stated a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
While outright cancellations or changes are not required and no action has been taken yet, careful consideration may be warranted. The National College Players Association’s statement also puts pressure on the NCAA to be prepared and set an example for others in the industry to follow.
Needless to say, this is not the first case of sports events being shut down this year in response to coronavirus. In China, the entire Chinese Basketball Association season has been postponed indefinitely in an attempt to contain the virus. In Taiwan, the High School Basketball League tournament, which is basically the Taiwanese version of March Madness, has been ruled to be played behind closed doors. Italian football league Serie A also canceled five matches in response to similar concerns. It may be possible that even the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be heavily impacted.
Coronavirus’ effect in the United States may still be relatively minor compared to other countries that are experiencing larger outbreaks, but the growing threat of the virus may see more sports associations consider increasing precautions in order to keep both players and fans safe.