The biggest conferences in college sports all canceled their basketball tournaments Thursday because of the coronavirus, putting in doubt this month’s NCAA Tournament — one of the biggest events on the American sports calendar.
Within minutes of each other, the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences announced that the remainder of their tournaments would not be played. All were preparing to play games in large arenas across the country, but with few people in the buildings.
The NCAA said Wednesday that it planned to play its men’s and women’s tournament games that start next week with restricted access for the general public. The NCAA said only essential staff and limited family members would be allowed to attend the games.
There was no immediate word from the NCAA if it also planned to scrap its celebrated men’s basketball tournament. The NCAA Tournament generates more than $900 million dollars for the association and its hundreds of member schools.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said it’s “hard to tell right now whether there will be an NCAA Tournament to play in” while announcing the Big 12 was shutting it down.
Texas and Texas Tech were going through pregame warmups and the handful of close family and friends were already in the stands Thursday when the teams were pulled off the court 40 minutes before tip-off.
“I think this is emblematic of how our country will be responding to a very unusual set of circumstances,” Bowlsy said. “I feel good that we made the right decision for the right reasons.”
Following the NCAA’s lead Wednesday, most college conferences announced that their basketball tournaments would be conducted with limited fan access the rest of the week. By Thursday, after the NBA suspended its season Wednesday night, they decided not to play at all.
Some took a little longer than others. The Big East started its second-round game between top-seeded Creighton and St. John’s at Madison Square Garden and not until halftime was the tournament called off.
As the Bluejays and Red Storm were playing, a few subway stops away at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Atlantic-10 was holding a news conference to called off its tournament.
Also, canceling tournaments were the American Athletic Conference in Fort Wort, Texas; the Sun Belt in New Orleans; the Western Athletic Conference in Anaheim, California; and the Mid-American Conference in Cleveland at an arena that is home to the NBA’s Cavaliers and is scheduled to be the site of NCAA men’s tournament games next week.
The semifinals and finals of the Sun Belt men’s and women’s tournaments were set to be played Saturday at the Smoothie King Center, where the NBA’s Pelicans play and the site of this year’s women’s Final Four.
The SEC also announced the suspension of regular-season competition for teams in all sports on campuses as well as SEC championship events until March 30.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus.
The Big Ten was playing in Indianapolis; the SEC in Nashville, Tennessee; the Big 12 in Kansas City, Missouri; the Pac-12 in Las Vegas; and the ACC in Greensboro, North Carolina, at another arena set to host NCAA men’s first- and second-round games next week.
At the ACC, Florida State and Clemson were on the floor warming up for the first game of a scheduled quadrupleheader when the announcement came down that no games would be played.
Top seed Florida State was then awarded the league’s championship trophy in an odd ceremony with commissioner John Swofford in a mostly empty arena.
This was a very different kind of March Madness.