A surreal week in sports continued Thursday with the NCAA announcing that it’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments scheduled for next week will no longer take place. NBA insider Shams Charania of The Athletic was the first to report the event’s cancellation.
This was the expected outcome after Duke University and others (top-ranked Kansas among them) announced they would not participate in this year’s NCAA field amid safety concerns related to the growing coronavirus outbreak, a widespread epidemic that has already claimed over 4,000 lives worldwide. The writing was on the wall after conference tournament play came to a standstill this afternoon with the AAC, Big East, Big Ten, Conference USA, Pac-12, SEC, WAC and others announcing plans to close shop.
The NCAA’s decision to call off March Madness marks the latest sports domino to fall with most major leagues including the NBA, NHL and MLB suspending play until further notice. These drastic measures are in response to COVID-19, a global emergency (it's been classified as a pandemic) spanning 100-plus countries. The NBA has been hit particularly hard by the illness with two of its more prominent players—Jazz All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell—both testing positive for the virus. The world of entertainment has also been impacted with two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, among those affected.
The NCAA had hoped to keep March Madness afloat, making tentative plans to play the 68-team tournament without fans present. But with fear escalating nationwide, hosting the much-anticipated event no longer became feasible. The decision to pull the plug on this year’s men’s and women’s tournaments—not a postponement but an outright cancellation—looks like it could be just the tip of the iceberg for college sports. NCAA President Mark Emmert has since canceled the remainder of this year’s winter and spring athletic calendar across all collegiate levels.
Abandoning an entire sports season is unprecedented but for the NCAA, there was no other choice. Coronavirus continues to expand its reach in the U.S. with over 1,400 cases confirmed nationally, affecting 45 states with a death toll approaching 40.