The NCAA’s decision to play the tournament games with no fans in the stands because of the ongoing fear of the novel coronavirus means the Bucs will be playing their biggest game or games of the season in front of thousands of empty seats.
“It’s really sad for the players, fans and everyone involved with this great tournament, but we must do what’s best for their health and safety,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “It’s a historical time that has warranted a historical decision.”
College basketball, like sports all over the world, had been operating under a cloud of uncertainty leading up to the monumental decision. Several college conference tournaments have been drastically altered this week before the NCAA announced its plans.
ETSU won the Southern Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Southern Conference’s postseason event Monday night in front of a sold-out crowd in Asheville, North Carolina.
The NCAA brackets come out Sunday night and that’s when fans of 68 schools across the country — ETSU included — expected to be scrambling to make travel arrangements.
Instead, they won’t be going anywhere. The people at the arenas allowed to watch the games are expected to be limited to players’ families and essential staff.
“It‘s really disappointing,” ETSU fan Jeff Blake said. “I was really expecting to go and have a big time and watch our Bucs make some noise in the tournament. I really feel bad for them. I think it’s terrible for the kids.
“Me being disappointed is one thing. But for those kids, they put all their heart and soul into winning the championship. The NCAA Tournament isn’t going to be the same for them.”
With no protocol in place, college basketball’s reaction and efforts to battle the spread of the virus have been widely varied and seem to change hourly.
The Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s tournaments this week, choosing to award its automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament to the regular-season champions.
In addition, the Big West and Mid-American Conference tournaments will be played with no fans in the stands.
Several other tournaments are going on as planned.
The NCAA Tournament is set to start Tuesday with the First Four games in Dayton, Ohio, and that state’s governor has ordered indoor sporting events in the state to be closed to spectators. Ohio is also scheduled to play host to first- and second-round NCAA games. Cleveland is one of the eight sites and all the Ohio games were the first ones to be announced as off-limits to spectators.
The announcement about the rest of the NCAA Tournament came shortly after.
An NCAA teleconference with Kevin White, the chairman of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, was canceled Wednesday. He was likely to have been inundated with more questions about the coronavirus than the actual tournament.
Other first- and second-round NCAA sites are Albany, New York; Tampa, Florida; St. Louis; Omaha, Nebraska; Spokane, Washington and Sacramento, California.
HIGH SCHOOL REACTION
As far as high schools go, the Tennessee Secondary Sports Athletic Association announced its state tournaments would go on and it was monitoring the situation.
In Virginia, which has its state championship games on Thursday, players were told not to shake hands before or after the games.