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NCAA cancels 2020 men's and women's basketball tournaments due to coronavirus

The NCAA cancelled the 2020 NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments due to the spread of the coronavirus, the organization announced Thursday. A decision that would have been stunning just days ago became obvious by Thursday evening, as an unprecedented week unfolded in the sports world and beyond.

The NCAA’s decision continues a frenetic 24 hours where the coronavirus has essentially shut down sports in America and beyond. The NCAA’s decision falls in line with the NBA, NHL, MLS and professional tennis, which have all suspended their seasons.

“Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships,” the NCAA said in a statement. “This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.”

The last time the NCAA tournament wasn’t played in the United States was 1938. Since that time, even amid World War II, the NCAA has held a postseason tournament and declared a champion.

The decision, which was widely regarded as necessary and in line with medical prudence, will leave a giant hole in the American sporting calendar. For the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, college basketball won’t provide the sporting soundtrack to this time of year.

The cancellation of the NCAA tournament will have far-reaching ramifications in the sport and beyond. In the 14 cities slated to host the men’s tournaments, there will be hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. For the players unable to conclude their seasons, questions will be raised as to whether either seniors or all players will be given an extra year of eligibility, which would have far-reaching resonance throughout the sport. There will also be a significant economic impact on conferences and programs — especially those that lack major college football — that rely on the monetary units of the NCAA tournament to operate.

The decision comes nearly one day after the NCAA made what was then considered a landmark decision — playing games in empty areas around the country to help protect players and fans from the spread of the coronavirus. But the actions of sports leagues pivoted on Wednesday night when Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA suspended its season soon after.

General overall view of the March Madness logo at center court before the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

That spree of news sparked a tenor change, as few will criticize the NCAA’s decision. The organization had long ago assembled a panel of medical professionals and proceeded through these uncertain times pragmatically. By the time the NCAA made a decision Thursday, it’d become difficult to imagine them doing anything else.

Once the NBA’s decision came down Wednesday night, the blitz of cancellations of the ongoing major college basketball conference tournaments felt inevitable. It led to a surreal morning around the sport, as every major conference canceled its postseason basketball tournament essentially within a 90-minute span.

This is the time of the year where there’s endless basketball on television from noon until last call. But in one hectic spree, starting with the American Athletic Conference, the dominoes of cancellation began falling on Thursday morning.

“There was no way we could defend playing this,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told Yahoo Sports. “We wanted to be proactive in protecting our student-athletes.” 

At the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, Michigan and Rutgers players were cleared from the floor less than an hour before tip-off. At the ACC tournament, Virginia Tech and Clemson players cleared the floor less than 20 minutes before tip.

One college coach summed up the tenor of those around the sport on Thursday morning when he asked an administrator: “Why are we doing this?”

Only the Big East tournament played on at Madison Square Garden, with St. John’s and Creighton playing one half of basketball before the Big East cancelled the tournament at halftime. The Big East was roundly mocked on social media for carrying on while others sat things out.

That flurry of cancellations led to the NCAA tournament being shuttered for the first time in more than eight decades.

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