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Madness or precaution? Group calls on NCAA to hold basketball tournament without fans

Advocates worry large crowds would put players at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

A nonprofit advocacy group for college athletes has told the NCAA it should consider holding the annual men and women’s March Madness tournaments without fans in attendance because of coronavirus concerns.

“In regard to the NCAA’s March Madness Tournament and other athletic events, there should be a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present,” the National College Players Association wrote.

The NCPA also suggested the NCAA should consider canceling off-the-court events that would put players in contact with fans.

“In the wake of the emerging coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA and its colleges should take precautions to protect college athletes,” the group wrote. “They should also make public which actions will be taken and when. Precautions should include cancelling all auxiliary events that put players in contact with crowds such as meet and greets and press events.

“Athletic programs should also take every possible measure to sanitize buses and airplanes used to transport players.”

The NCPA sited how Google canceled a summit in California and how Amazon is encouraging its employees to avoid all non-essential travel.

“The NCAA and its colleges must act now,” the NCPA wrote. “There is not time to waste.”

The NCAA is monitoring developments with the coronavirus outbreak, spokesperson Greg Johnson told CNN.

“NCAA staff continues to prepare for all NCAA winter and spring championships, but we are keenly aware of coronavirus and will continue to monitor in coordination with state/local health authorities and the CDC,” Johnson said.

Amalie Arena in Tampa is scheduled to host games during the first and second rounds of the men’s tournament on March 19 and 21.

As of Thursday morning, this year’s women’s tournament does not have any games scheduled in Florida. However, that could change depending on which teams make the tournament. The first two rounds of the women’s tournament are held on various campuses across the country.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is scheduled to start with the First Four on March 17. The start of the women’s tournament is set for March 20.

On Wednesday, the Italian government ordered all sporting events in the country to take place without fans present until at least April 3. However, data shows Italy has the fourth-most confirmed cases of the coronavirus (3,089) behind China, South Korea and Iran.

As of Thursday morning, there are more than 96,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus with about 162 in the U.S. So far, 3,303 people have died.

The Florida Department of Health reported Thursday there are two Florida residents with confirmed cases of the coronavirus, scientifically named COVID-19. Five people with confirmed cases have been taken back to their native country and there is one non-Florida resident with the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote “the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low” for most of the American public.

Written By

Mark Bergin is a freelance journalist, who previously worked as an online writer for 10News WTSP in St. Petersburg. Bergin has covered the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium negotiations, the 2018 midterm elections, Hurricane Irma, Tampa Bay’s transportation issues and city/county government. He also covers the NFL for the Bleav Podcast Network and for BrownsNation.com. You can follow his work on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at @mdbergin. Reach him by email at markdbergin@gmail.com.

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