We are in uncharted territory. For the first time, this year’s NCAA Tournament will be played in empty stadiums. There will be no fans present when Iowa and 67 other teams take the floor next week for the tournament.
NCAA president Mark Emmert made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon, following a slew of emergency actions taken by conferences, local governments and companies around the country.
There was much speculation leading to Wednesday’s decision. Just a day earlier, Ohio governor Mike DeWine announced the state would not allow indoor sporting events to host fans. That had meant the First Four in Dayton and the 1st and 2nd round games in Cleveland were set to be played in empty stadiums. Now, that expands to all NCAA Tournament games.
Despite the decision by the NCAA, the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis is set to kick off this evening as planned - with fans. Several other conferences have already announced the decision to make serious changes to their tournaments.
The Mid-American and Big West Conferences both announced on Tuesday they would hold their tournaments in empty arenas. The Ivy League went a step further, cancelling their tournament altogether and instead sending regular season champion Yale to the NCAA Tournament with their lone bid.
The widespread ramifications of the coronavirus are being felt worldwide and in every corner of the global economy. European soccer games have been played in empty stadiums for weeks while the entire country of Italy has been on a lockdown this week. China, the epicenter of teh initial outbreak, saw schools and companies shut down for weeks.
Now, the state of Iowa’s three regents institutions have all announced plans to hold classes remotely following the return from Spring Break after next week. Schools in the Iowa City area are exploring closing altogether with at least a dozen confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Johnson County as of this week. Employers around the country are enforcing mandatory work from home policies
It will no doubt be a surreal experience for players and coaches alike as they take the floor in front of quiet arenas. It will be surreal as fans watching at home to see empty stadiums with no energy from the crowd. Sites that were once home court advantages for higher seeds are now more truly neutral sites.
It is truly uncharted territory. Be safe and stay healthy.