Coronavirus and sports: NCAA March Madness tournament canceled over safety concerns

(NEW YORK) — As more people across the United States test positive for the novel coronavirus, the health emergency is forcing changes to major sporting events, from the NCAA to Major League Soccer.

NCAA cancels March Madness tournaments

NCAA President Mark Emmert announced that the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and all remaining NCAA winter and spring championships have been canceled.

“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to 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 in a statement.

The move came shortly after the Athletic Coast Conference suspended all games, practices and other activities in NCAA championships.

“This is uncharted territory and the health and safety of our student-athletes and institutions remains our top priority. This decision is aimed to protect from the further spread of COVID-19, ” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a statement.

NHL suspends season due to shared facilities with multiple NBA facilities

“In light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus, and after consulting with medical experts and convening a conference call of the Board of Governors, the National Hockey League is announcing today that it will pause the 2019-20 season beginning with tonight’s games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Thursday.

After Wednesday night’s news that an NBA player tested positive for the novel coronavirus and because two professional leagues share many of the same indoor arenas and locker room facilities, the commissioner said “it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point” and therefore said “it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.”

“We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we will encourage our players and other members of the NHL community to take all reasonable precautions – including by self-quarantine, where appropriate,” Bettman said. “Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup. Until then, we thank NHL fans for your patience and hope you stay healthy.”

PGA Tour proceeds without fans through April

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan announced at a press conference on Thursday that “PGA Tour events across all tours will currently proceed as scheduled, but will do so without fans.”

The policy will go into effect for The Players Championship that begins Friday and will continue through the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, which begins March 30 and ends on April 5.

“We feel that this is a safe environment in which to continue to move forward with the tournament with 144 players and limited personnel on site,” Monahan said of the 400-acre venue at TPC Sawgrass. “We’re comfortable that this is the right path forward, but this is something that we’ll continue to monitor as we go forward.”

Monahan assured fans that the PGA Tour is “committed to providing refunds” for patrons who had tickets for this weekend’s tournament in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

The PGA Tour said it has a protocol in place with its volunteer force and local health officials if a player or individual requests to be tested. Tour personnel can “make that happen and make certain there are resources in place for that situation if it were to intensify,” he said.

In the wake of the new travel advisories that President Trump announced Wednesday, Monahan said the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship will be postponed due to potential logistical issues for players and staff who travel internationally, which could limit the Tour’s “ability to successfully stage the event.”

While he did not reveal any specific protocols or decisions surrounding The Masters, Monahan said that he has “been in frequent discussion with Agusta [National Golf Club] and will leave it to Augusta to share their thinking.”

The Tour has had a team in place “carefully monitoring and assessing the situation and its implications for several weeks,” Monahan said of the coronavirus pandemic, and has weighed all the options in collaboration with Tour partners and members.

Major League Soccer suspends season for 30 days

“Our clubs were united today in the decision to temporarily suspend our season — based on the advice and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and other public health authorities, and in the best interest of our fans, players, officials and employees,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced on Thursday.

NBA suspends season

The NBA announced it will suspend its season indefinitely following Wednesday’s game.

The announcement came after a player with the Utah Jazz, identified as Rudy Gobert by ESPN’s senior NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, was diagnosed with novel coronavirus. The Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City Thunder game was suspended midway through the contest, though Gobert never traveled to the arena.

“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice,” the league said in a statement. “The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”

The news came after the league considered playing games in empty arenas.

Earlier Wednesday, in San Francisco, the mayor banned all group events over 1,000 people to slow the spread of the virus.

The Golden State Warriors had announced — prior to the league’s suspension — that its Thursday night game in San Francisco against the Brooklyn Nets would be played without fans.

“It’s a shock for sure,” Warriors star Steph Curry said Wednesday.

“Everything about our routines is reliant upon that kind of game day energy. Pulling up to the arena, seeing fans outside of Chase [Center] walking around in all the Warrior jerseys, even energy in the building, you can feel it all the way through the locker room, through the tunnel,” Curry said. “The only thing is try to have a conversation about how you raise your level of intensity from the jump because you don’t have that actual adrenaline rush of playing in front of 18,000 people like that.”

“I know once the game starts it will be fairly easy to get into that type of flow,” he added.

All other games and events at San Francisco’s Chase Center, the home to the Warriors, through March 21 were canceled or postponed, officials added.

NBA players told to self-quarantine

For now, the Utah Jazz will be under quarantine in Oklahoma City. Thunder players were not tested and sent home, according to ESPN.

Some players who faced off on the court against the Jazz in recent days — including the Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers — have been told to self-quarantine, ESPN said.

League sources told ESPN that some players and coaches from those teams scrambled to get tested for the virus as early as Wednesday night after learning of Gobert’s diagnosis.

In addition to the team’s recent opponents, there have been more than a dozen referees who have worked Jazz games over the past week that went on to officiate other league games. By late Wednesday night, players who’d come in contact with the Jazz were seeking tests for the virus, ESPN said.

Big Ten Conference cancels men’s basketball tournament

The Big Ten Conference “will be canceling the remainder of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament, effective immediately,” assistant commissioner of communications, Adam Augustine, said in a statement.

“The Big Ten Conference will use this time to work with the appropriate medical experts and institutional leadership to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Augustine said. “The main priority of the Big Ten Conference continues to be the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, fans and media as we continue to monitor all developing and relevant information on the COVID-19 virus.”

Fans banned from NCAA games

Days ahead of the start of March Madness, the NCAA president said fans will be banned from “upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family” there.

“While I understate how disappointing this is for all fans,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said Wednesday, “my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing.” Tune into ABC News Live at noon ET every weekday for the latest news, context and analysis on the novel coronavirus, with the full ABC News team where we will try to answer your questions about the virus.

Ivy League cancels springs athletics

The Ivy League on Wednesday canceled all games and practices through the rest of this academic year.

“In accordance with the guidance of public health and medical professionals, several Ivy League institutions have announced that students will not return to campus after spring break, and classes will be held virtually during the semester,” the council of presidents said in a statement. “Given this situation, it is not feasible for practice and competition to continue.”

Each school will determine if winter teams and athletes who qualified for postseason play will participate, the council said.

The league also announced it was canceling its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and that the regular season champions will advance to the NCAA tournament.
Changes for the MLB

In Washington state, hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, the governor on Wednesday banned events of more than 250 people in several counties.

That prompted the Seattle Mariners to say the team is working with MLB “on alternative plans” for games scheduled in Seattle at the end of March.

The San Francisco Giants also made adjustments.

The Giants said they won’t play the March 24 exhibition game set to take place in the city and that the team said it is working on “alternative arrangements.”  

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