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NCAA expects to have fans attend NCAA Tournament, despite fears of coronavirus

Off-campus sites and controlled travel were cited as reasons to move forward.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 04 ACC Women’s Tournament - Wake Forest v North Carolina Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With 33 states now reporting confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the NCAA announced on Sunday that all Division I basketball games, including conference tournaments and March Madness, would be played in front of spectators.

In an interview with Greg Gumbel on CBS Sports, Dan Gavitt, Senior Vice President of NCAA Men’s Basketball, said that officials are “mindful of the challenges nationally with COVID-19” and that every precaution will be taken to play postseason games as planned.

“We have an advisory panel of experts in epidemiology, infectious disease and sports safety that are advising us and we meet on a daily basis with our senior leadership team to assess the situation,” said Gavitt, during the nationally televised interview on Sunday.

The coronavirus first impacted college basketball last week when Yeshiva University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute played a Division III men’s basketball contest in an empty gymnasium at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. At that time, the state of Maryland had three confirmed COVID-19 cases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly discouraged any gathering of large crowds, forcing the decision to play without spectators.

Gavitt said removing fans at the Division III level was an “institutional decision” and that conditions are different for Division I competitions in March as the majority of games will be played at neutral, off-campus sites and that travel will be in a controlled environment. The First Four, scheduled for March 17-18 at the University of Dayton, is the only on-campus site that will be used for the NCAA Tournament.

LeBron James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, recently announced that he would refuse to play in any games without spectators, sparking debate about the governments role in regulating attendance at sporting events and concerts.

Currently, there is no reason to believe that conference tournaments will be impacted by the coronavirus as Wildcat fans will soon invade Nashville, Tennessee for the SEC Tournament on March 11-15 at Bridgestone Arena.

With a short three-hour drive from Lexington, UK fans will be out in force in Nashville as the No. 1-seed Wildcats play the winner of Tennessee-Alabama at 1:00 p.m. ET on Friday, March 13th. The semifinals and finals will be played on March 14th and 15th. Last year, the SEC Tournament drew a total attendance of 201,212.

Per national media reports, more than 400 people in 33 states are now infected with the coronavirus as healthcare officials continue to encourage vigilant hand-washing and self-quarantine. Kentucky’s first case was reported on Friday when Governor Andy Beshear confirmed that a person from Harrison County, just north of Lexington, had been infected.