The NCAA announced on Thursday that March Madness would be canceled as fears of the fast-spreading coronavirus continued to have a massive impact on American sports.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled, with the announcement coming shortly after conferences, including the Big 10, Big 12, SEC, and ACC, canceled their league tournaments. The cancellations happened in quick succession on Thursday morning, just ahead of the start of games in their respective conferences.
The conferences scrambled to decide how to proceed, with some crowning champions based on regular-season records in the case that the tournament were to go forward. Some schools had already announced that they were shutting down programs for the year, including Duke University, making the NCAA Tournament logically nearly impossible.
The NCAA had already announced a massive change to the tournament, saying on Wednesday that the men’s basketball tournament was to be played in empty arenas without fans.
“This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement, via CNN. “We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families.”
The move came hours after the NBA abruptly moved to postpone its season after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, and hours later, teammate Donovan Mitchell tested positive as well. Other sports leagues across the U.S. followed suit, with Major League Soccer announcing that it was suspending for 30 days.
There had been growing pressure on the NCAA to cancel the tournament, with many speaking out to say that the organization must move to protect the health of student athletes. That included former NBA star-turned-commentator Charles Barkley, who has become a fixture of the tournament while working for CBS in the studio.
Barkley suggested that the NCAA Tournament postpone until all players could be tested.
“I love working for Turner and CBS. We have to take a step and look at March Madness,” Barkley said on CNN, via The Hill. “Even though they won’t have fans in the stands, I don’t want these big strong players breathing on each other for next month.
“I think the NCAA and the NBA should take a step back. Let’s get all these players tested, these guys have been with their families for the last two weeks.”
It is not clear how the NCAA will move forward with this basketball season, including whether or not a national champion will even be crowned.