An advocacy group for college athletes is calling on the NCAA to consider playing March Madness games without crowds to prevent the spread of infections. The NCAA isn’t at that point yet, but it does have contingency plans for its major basketball tournaments.
A lot of big events scheduled for March have been affected by the novel coronavirus, but a request by an advocacy group suggests that the month’s biggest sports tournament could be very different this year.
The National College Players Association (NCPA) this week called on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to protect players by limiting their exposure to the public during the March Madness basketball tournament and other athletic events.
“Precautions should include canceling all auxiliary events that put players in contact with crowds, such as meet-and-greets and press events,” NCPA said in a statement. “Athletic programs should also take every possible measure to sanitize buses and airplanes used to transport players.”
But the group’s most dramatic suggestion was its recommendation that the NCAA consider “holding competitions without an audience present.”
While the NCAA hasn’t committed to taking such steps just yet, its chief operating officer, Donald Remy, said it was looking at its options.
“If you can think of it, it’s something that we’ve gone through an analysis around,” Remy told Bloomberg. “We’ve contingency-planned for all circumstances.”
The NCAA is talking daily with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is open to discussing strategies in case games will be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The massive March Madness tournament, with games held across the country, accounts for more than 80 percent of the NCAA’s annual revenue, Bloomberg reported. Remy noted the organization has an insurance policy and reserves that will cushion the blow if games are canceled.
He added that whatever happens, the NCAA wants to keep both player interests and public health at the center of the discussion.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of these student-athletes,” Remy said. “As we’re thinking about these circumstance, we’re thinking about how to preserve that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and at the same time how to make sure that any decision we make is grounded in medical science.”