For the first time in its 81-year history, the NCAA Division I basketball tournament will not be held. The NCAA made the unprecedented call to cancel all March Madness games over growing concerns over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Today, NCAA president Mark Emmert and the board of governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships,” the NCAA announced Thursday. “This decision is based on the evolving COVID-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 decision by other entities.”
The historic move to cancel the tournament comes after a string of professional sports leagues – including the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS – suspended their seasons amid the virus’ spread throughout the U.S. Holding large, public gatherings in the wake of the pandemic has been widely discouraged by health care officials, leading to a shut-down of all Live Nation-promoted concerts and even an immediate closure of Broadway.
NCAA President Mark Emmert previously announced that the tournament – originally poised to begin next week – would go on as planned with limited attendance. Rather than put fans at risk, games were to be played with only essential personnel and families in attendance only. Hours before March Madness was officially axed, athletic conferences around the country cancelled their tournaments.
CBS Sports and Turner Sports, whose networks owned all television coverage of March Madness, issued a joint statement in response to the cancellation.
“We are fully supportive of the NCAA’s decision to cancel this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship,” the networks expressed. “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.”
There have been more than 1,500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. to date, with well over 100,000 cases worldwide.