The Ivy League said it will leave it to individual institutions to decide whether winter teams and athletes that qualified for upcoming postseason play will participate. That includes the Yale men’s and Princeton women’s basketball teams, which won regular season titles and were awarded automatic berths into the NCAA tournaments after the Ivy League tournaments were canceled.
Other Division I conferences have announced increased safety measures as March Madness ramps up but have vowed that the games will go on, in some cases without fans. Some Division I conferences have already completed their postseason basketball tournaments while many of the bigger events have yet to begin.
The NCAA responded to the Ivy League’s basketball tournament cancellation by reiterating schools and conferences can make their own decisions on regular season and conference tournaments, adding that nothing had changed for the NCAA tournaments.
“NCAA member schools and conferences make their own decisions regarding regular season and conference tournament play,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “As we have stated, we will make decisions on our events based on the best, most current public health guidance available.”
Later Tuesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the state would ask for no spectators at indoor sporting events “other than the athletes, parents, and others essential to the game.” The NCAA annually begins its men’s basketball tournament with the First Four games in Dayton, scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday. Cleveland is scheduled to host first- and second-round men’s tournament games on March 20 and 22.
On Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Health confirmed three positive coronavirus cases in the state and said 15 others are being tested.
Representatives at the University of Dayton and the Mid-American Conference, the hosts of the First Four and the Cleveland subregional, said the NCAA would make any decisions regarding those games. The NCAA did not immediately return a request for further comment. The MAC tournament is scheduled to take place Thursday through Saturday at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. A MAC representative said the conference is “still in discussions” about how it will proceed and will release a statement later Tuesday.
The Ivy League men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were scheduled to be played in Cambridge, Mass., starting later this week. A number of Ivy League schools, Harvard among them, have canceled on-campuses classes in an effort to halt the spread of the virus. Princeton encouraged students to “stay home after spring break,” saying that the school would “make sure you are able to meet your academic requirements remotely.”
“Given this situation, it is not feasible for practice and competition to continue," the league said in its statement about the decision to cancel spring sports.
Among the spring sports affected by the decision is men’s lacrosse; three Ivy League teams appear in the top five of the sport’s latest rankings.
The decision to cancel the basketball tournaments prompted men’s and women’s basketball players at Penn to create a petition calling for the event to be reinstated. One of the criticisms of the Ivy League’s presidents mentioned in the petition was the league’s willingness, before Wednesday’s announcement, to allow other sports to proceed as scheduled.
“Horrible, horrible, horrible decision and total disregard for the players and teams that have put their hearts into this season,” Harvard senior guard Bryce Aiken tweeted. “This is wrong on so many levels and the @IvyLeague should do its due diligence to find a better solution. Everyone knows the risks of playing!”
Steve Donahue, the men’s coach at Penn, echoed that, saying, “To pull this from our kids, it’s the most horrific thing I’ve dealt with as a coach.” Donohue, whose team was to have been the fourth seed in the conference tournament, said he found inherent “inconsistencies” in the decision.
“To have to tell kids their seasons and their careers are over, while lacrosse teams are going off to play games and wrestlers are going to nationals,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “ … If you’re letting Yale go to the NCAA tournament — if they’d said across the board, we’re shutting down all sports, you’d understand.”
Elsewhere, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Wednesday banned public gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, municipalities that include Seattle and its surrounding suburbs. The restriction, which extends through the end of March but could be extended, means major professional sporting events in those jurisdictions will either be canceled or held without fans.
In California, Santa Clara County banned gatherings of 1,000 or more people for the rest of the month, a decision that could affect NCAA women’s basketball tournament games at Stanford and three San Jose Sharks NHL games.
Santa Clara County’s decision came Monday evening, shortly after the public health department announced the covid-19-related death of a woman in her 60s, the county’s first coronavirus-linked death. The ban, which took immediate effect, will last until April 1. The county confirmed that six more cases had been diagnosed, for a total of 43 in the county.
The Stanford women’s basketball team, ranked seventh in the nation by the Associated Press, is expected to host the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament from March 20-22 in Palo Alto. Stanford is also scheduled to host games in several other sports this month; the school said Monday night that all events remain scheduled as of now.
The Sharks are scheduled to host the Montreal Canadiens March 19, the Boston Bruins March 21 and the Arizona Coyotes March 29 in San Jose’s SAP Center. The next event scheduled for the arena is a minor league hockey game between the San Jose Barracuda and the Colorado Eagles on March 17.
“We will be reviewing each scheduled event due to take place for the rest of the month and provide an update in the coming days,” the Sharks said in a statement. “We appreciate the understanding and patience of our fans, guests and partners during this unprecedented time.”
The Sharks have been averaging over 16,000 fans per game at home. One option would be to play the upcoming games in an empty arena, as many European soccer clubs have done amid the outbreak.
“I don’t think it would make a huge difference but it would be kind of weird because it would be really, really, quiet,” Sharks goalie Aaron Dell said, “but if that’s what they have to do, that’s what they have to do.”
The San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer have only one home game this month, on March 21 against Sporting Kansas City at Earthquakes Stadium, which holds 18,000.
“The San Jose Earthquakes fully support the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department’s recent announcement barring all mass gatherings through the end of the month and will comply immediately,” the Earthquakes said in a statement. The team promised to provide more information soon.
On the high school level, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference canceled its winter sports tournaments, with boys’ and girls’ basketball tournaments and the boys’ hockey tournament already underway.