March Madness: NCAA cancels men’s and women’s basketball tournaments over coronavirus

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Fans were heard booing on Wednesday evening at the Golden 1 Center as officials announced that the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings game had been postponed. People began leaving after the announcement, which was prompted over concern a referee had worked a Utah Jazz game earlier in the week. The NBA suspended its 2019-2020 season after a Jazz player tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

The NCAA announced Thursday it is cancelling its March Madness basketball tournaments and all remaining winter and spring championships amid coronavirus fears.

The organization announced in a statement that Division 1 tournaments for both men and women are cancelled “based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat” that has led major sports leagues to suspend their seasons and the cancellation of other tournaments across the sports world.

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The decision was also made due to “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 statement read.

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The move came a day after NCAA president Mark Emmert issued a statement promising scheduled games would go on, but with limited family attendance and essential staff only.

That plan appears to have been impacted by the NBA’s decision Wednesday to suspend its season as one of its players, Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert, tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The NHL, MLB, MLS and other major sports leagues have also announced they are suspending their seasons.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: MLS suspends season for 30 days

TSN, which broadcasts March Madness in Canada, issued a blanket statement Thursday saying it supports all its league partners “as decisions are made with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We also remain in close discussions with our advertising partners as the situation unfolds,” the broadcaster said, adding it is in close discussions with advertisers and is working to confirm replacement programming.

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U.S. broadcasters CBS Sports and Turner Sports said in a joint statement that they are “fully supportive of the NCAA’s decision to cancel this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.”

“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.”

The NCAA cancelled all of its spring championships in every sport, which include hockey, baseball and lacrosse.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been played every year since 1939 when Oregon won the championship in Evanston, Ill. It has grown through the years, in both size and stature.

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The three-week tournament generates almost a billion dollars in revenue each year for the NCAA and its hundreds of member universities and colleges, most coming from a television contract with CBS and Turner that pays the NCAA almost US$800 million per year.

NHL suspends its season amid coronavirus pandemic
NHL suspends its season amid coronavirus pandemic

It is now one of the biggest events in American sports, a basketball marathon of buzzer-beaters, upsets and thrills involving 68 teams. The field for the men’s tournament was scheduled to be announced Sunday. The 64-team women’s field was to be revealed Monday. The NCAA women’s tournament began in 1982 and it, too, has become a big event, raising the profile of the sport.

“I’m disappointed but I totally understand. I really feel for the senior student-athletes; every student athlete, but particularly the seniors because this is their last chance for the fans,” said Oregon women’s coach Kelly Graves, whose team would have entered the tournament as favourites to reach the Final Four in New Orleans.

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READ MORE: NHL suspends its season amid coronavirus pandemic

“There’s something more important than the games going on. I’ve kind of come to grips to that a little more than a few hours ago.”

Games would have started on the men’s side on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, before spreading out to eight sites from coast to coast from next Thursday through Sunday. The women’s tournament was scheduled to begin March 20, with first- and second-round games to be played at 16 sites on or near the campuses of the top teams.

The men’s Final Four was to be played April 4 and 6 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

—With files from the Canadian Press