March 1, 2020
March Madness Games Should Be Played In Empty Stadiums To Protect Athletes From Coronavirus, Says Group

The NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament, or "March Madness" as it's colloquially known to fans, should be played in empty stadiums to protect student-athletes from coronavirus, a college athletes' advocacy group says.

As Yahoo Sports reports, the National College Players Association, which, according to its Facebook page, is "the voice for current and former college athletes," has issued a statement calling for the NCAA to consider the drastic step in order to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

"In regard to the NCAA's March Madness Tournament and other athletic events, there should also be a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present," the statement reads.

That would mean, for example, that the famed Final Four and title games would be broadcast to millions of viewers around the world from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, in an arena completely devoid of fans. Gone would be the excited cheers of the crowd whenever a great play is made, as would be the sounds of the teams' cheerleaders and pep bands.

Instead, other than the announcers' voices, the TV audience at home, or in sports bars around the world would, hear nothing but the squeaks of the athletes' shoes against the wooden floor, the bouncing of the ball, and the coaches and players yelling instructions to one another.

atlanta's mercedes-benz stadium
Wikimedia Commons | Atlanta Falcons

The alternative would be cramming tens of thousands of people -- many who come from out of town or possibly even out of the country -- into buildings, even as a contagious and deadly virus outbreak is happening. That process would take place several times over the course of a few weeks.

The group suggests going even a step further than just playing the games in empty stadiums, by limiting the student-athletes' contact with the general public in other ways as well.

"Precautions should include cancelling all auxiliary events that put players in contact with crowds such as meet and greets, and press events," the group says.

Further precautions include sanitizing buses and airplanes used to transport players.

So is the NCAA likely to take the group up on its advice? That remains to be seen, but for now, NCAA-affiliated college basketball games across the country are taking place in full stadiums, without restrictions, as are NBA games.

Outside of college sports, however, it seems that some organizations are canceling or delaying events that bring multiple people together in one place in order to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Google has canceled a planned summit, and Olympic qualifiers have been canceled or postponed.