The National Collegiate Athletic Association has followed the lead of major US pro sports leagues by cancelling its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments due to the global coronavirus outbreak.
The decision, which came amid mounting pressure, came a day after the NCAA said it planned to proceed with the events but with restricted access for the general public.
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament, or March Madness as it is colloquially known, is one of the biggest events on the sporting calendar in the United States, generating huge TV audiences for its broadcast partners and hundreds of millions of dollars for the NCAA and member universities. It also makes superstars of many of its standout players.
It is the first time the NCAA men’s tournament will not be held since it began in 1939.
“This decision is based on the evolving COVAD-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities,” the NCAA said.
The decision is a major blow to domestic TV partners WarnerMedia and CBS Sports, who had hoped that March Madness would become a welcome diversion to the coronavirus outbreak before the health crisis rapidly escalated this week.
“We are fully supportive of the NCAA’s decision to cancel this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship,” read a joint statement from CBS Sports and Turner Sports. “We’ll continue to work closely with the NCAA and all of our partners as we prioritize the health and well-being of everyone involved.”
It is also a blow to the city of Atlanta. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium, primarily the home of the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United, was due to hold the men’s Final Four. Future Final Fours have been scheduled until 2026 already.
It was an inevitable move from the NCAA. Moments earlier, the Atlantic Coast Conference suspended all athletic-related activities, the University of Kansas said all athletic travel was cancelled indefinitely, while Duke University suspended all athletic competition for the foreseeable future. The Pac-12, American, Mountain West and Big West also announced that all conference sporting events would be cancelled until further notice.
“This is a difficult time with so many conflicting emotions,” Dawn Staley, coach of the No. 1-ranked South Carolina women’s basketball team, said in a statement. “First and foremost, we have to recognize how important it is to do the right thing for our community. Sports is a big part of our lives, but just one part of how we are connected to each other. We need to step back and think about the larger good served by canceling events that put people at risk.
“As competitors, we are certainly disappointed that we will not have the opportunity to contend for a second National Championship. That said, it will not diminish the way we look at our season, how we value our body of work over the last few four months. We have measured ourselves against the best in the country over that time, and will embrace and relish that accomplishment,” she said.
Earlier on Thursday, the biggest conferences in college sports cancelled their basketball tournaments. The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, and Pac-12 all announced that the remainder of their tournaments would not be played.
Other conferences quickly followed suit, including American, Atlantic 10, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, America East, Big Sky and Western Athletic Conference. The Big East briefly continued its tournament, before a second-round men’s game between St. John’s-Creighton at Madison Square Garden was cancelled at halftime.
In a wider move the NCAA also cancelled all of its remaining winter and spring championships in every sport, including ice hockey, softball, baseball, and lacrosse.