As cases of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) increase in the United States, it appears to be a scenario of not if the virus will begin to disrupt daily life, but when and to what degree.
Dangers of the virus are well-documented throughout other parts of the world. Now, one of the questions being posed by the advocacy group the National College Players Association (NCPA) is should the yearly NCAA March Madness basketball tournament feature games played in arenas without fans?
The group issued a statement recently encouraging the NCAA to consider holding the tourney games without audiences. The group serves to speak out on behalf of NCAA players and holds no legitimate power to enforce the action. Still, the statement is thought-provoking, to say the least.
The NCAA addressed the potential impact of the coronavirus in two memos to athletics directors, conference commissioners, health care administrators, and team physicians.
The initial memo came on January 28th and directed school health officials to review CDC materials included in the memo. Additionally, staff should to implement strategies to reduce risks on an as-needed basis.
The February 13th memo cites the NCAA intent to provide a “first-rate delivery of NCAA Championship experiences for participating student-athletes, team personnel, and fans.” The memo highlights the fact that “NCAA schools have the primary responsibility for ensuring actionable plans are in place” to deal with COVID-19 related incidents on campuses.
While this is all well and good, I can’t help but weigh the NCAA response against the BILLION DOLLAR enterprise that is March Madness. Am I directly saying that the monetary machine of the NCAA would compromise the health and well being of athletes, staff, and fans just to rake in a fortune? Eh, no.
March Madness is an economic phenomenon with a reach that touches everything from the advertising world, the gambling industry, participating schools, tournament host cities, and businesses surrounding the venues, right down to hometown bars and local Domino’s Pizza franchises.
I’m offering this simply as food for thought and not an indictment of the NCAA. I plan on putting my head on my pillow with the hope that the potential human toll will outweigh the financial toll if the time comes for making such decisions.
Until then, enjoy the excitement leading up to Selection Sunday. And stay tuned for my reports from Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio beginning on March 20th as I cover the NCAA first and second round weekend games.