The Ivy League on Tuesday canceled its men's and women's basketball tournaments and two other Division I conferences announced they will restrict fan access to their postseason games because of concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Ivy League's four-team tournaments were scheduled to be played Friday through Sunday at Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge. The Ivy League instead will award its automatic NCAA Tournament bids to the regular-season champions, the Princeton women and Yale men.
Later Tuesday, the Mid-American Conference said it was implementing a restricted attendance policy at its men's and women's basketball tournaments in Cleveland this week. That announcement came on the heels of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recommending that all indoor sporting events in the state be played without spectators on site.
The Big West said its men's and women's basketball tournaments in Southern California will be played without spectators. Most of those game will be played at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
The Ivy tournaments are the first at the Division I basketball level to be canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
Conference tournaments have been going on all over the country since last week at venues big and small. Most of the biggest conferences, such as the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, begin their men's tournaments this week at large arenas in major cities.
The NCAA men's and women's Division I tournaments begin next week. The NCAA responded quickly to the Ivy League's announcement, saying it planned to play its games at the scheduled sites with no adjustments to fan access, but is monitoring the situation.
“NCAA member schools and conferences make their own decisions regarding regular season and conference tournament play," NCAA president Mark Emmert said Tuesday in a statement. “As we have stated, we will make decisions on our events based on the best, most current public health guidance available.”
A few hours later, DeWine announced his recommendation for all high school, college and professional teams in Ohio to play without spectators in attendance, the NCAA released a another brief, less definitive statement.
“We are consulting with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel, who are leading experts in epidemiology and public health, and will make decisions in the coming days,” the NCAA said.
The first four games of the NCAA men's tournament are scheduled to be played in Dayton, Ohio, and first- and second-round games are scheduled for Cleveland on March 20 and 22.
CBS and Turner Sports held a conference call Tuesday for reporters to discuss the NCAA men’s tournament with network executives and some high-profile announcers, such as Jim Nantz and Charles Barkley.
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus and Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports, said the NCAA is in constant contact with its television partners. They said decisions regarding whether to postpone or cancel games or limit fan access to venues will be made solely by the NCAA.
“Obviously, it would be a different atmosphere and we wouldn’t be focusing as we often do on the excitement of the fans,” McManus said. “The basketball game is still going to be produced as it would if there are fans in the stands.”
The Ivy League also announced Tuesday it will limit spectators at all other sporting events for the rest of the spring season.
The Princeton, New Jersey-based league said the decision was made in “accordance with the guidance of public health and medical professionals to discourage and limit large gatherings on campuses in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.”
Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris said in a phone interview with the AP Tuesday afternoon that the league presidents had been talking for a few weeks about contingency plans. It wasn't until Tuesday morning that the presidents decided to call off the tournament.
“They’ve devoted a lot of time to this. It’s a decision they didn’t take lightly,” Harris said. “They consulted with their experts on campus. They are groups that are meeting many times a day developing policies. We are so devastated for the student-athletes.”
Harris said the decision wasn't about the location. It was about “the gathering of a group that would be larger than our schools are allowing on their campus for non-athletic events,” she said.
Harris said a gym without fans would still have too many people in the building because of the travel parties of the eight teams and those working the event.
The league said all tickets will be refunded and ticket holders with questions should contact the Harvard ticket office.
The women's tournament was scheduled to start Friday night, with top-seeded Princeton facing Columbia and No. 2 seed Penn facing Yale. The winners were to meet Saturday in the championship game.
Columbia, which was to play in the women's tournament for the first time, was about to start practice when coach Megan Griffith shared the news.
“Their hearts are broken. Completely devastated. They should be,” Griffith said. “We understand there are health risks. This is not something to be lightly taken. We don’t know what alternatives were discussed. It’s hard to swallow.”
The league held a conference call Monday with coaches and other school staff to go over tournament logistics. Penn women's basketball coach Mike McLaughlin said that it was a “typical call where you say what you're supposed to say.”
“There was not a great deal of depth behind it. I think we all knew something was going to change. It wasn’t going to sit the way it was a year ago. I didn’t sense it would be canceled outright.”
When McLaughlin learned of the cancellation, he quickly called his team together so players could find out from him and not through social media.
“When (McLaughlin) said it, I was in immediate shock,” Penn senior Kendall Grasela said. “We get the bid to the WNIT but don’t get a chance to compete for an NCAA slot. ... I broke down, I could have played my last college game and not even known that.”
Grasela talked to the other team captains. The group reached out to the other Ivy League schools and has started an an online petition to get the tournament reinstated.
McLaughlin, Griffith and Grasela were all upset about what they see as inconsistencies in the league because other sports are still able to play this weekend and beyond while basketball is not.
“It's difficult to swallow. That’s what we’re trying to deal with," McLaughlin said. "We're not able to play and now they are finding other sports are able to play. There's an inconsistency of messages.”
The men's tournament was to begin Saturday with top-seeded Yale playing Penn, followed by No. 2 seed Harvard facing Princeton. The men's championship game was set for Sunday.
"It's a bittersweet moment for us," Yale spokesman Mike Gambardella said. “We're happy our men will get an (automatic bid), but disappointed that our women won't be able to compete for a championship.”
AP Sports Writers Pat Eaton-Robb and Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.
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