BYU, Utah State to play NCAA Tournament games in empty arenas because of coronavirus

Sports

FILE – In this March 18, 2015, file photo, the NCAA logo is displayed at center court as work continues at The Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, for the NCAA college basketball tournament. NCAA President Mark Emmert says NCAA Division I basketball tournament games will be played without fans in the arenas because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (ABC4 Sports) – Utah State and BYU are both headed to the NCAA Tournament next week, but when the Aggies and Cougars take the court, they will be playing in essentially empty arena.

NCAA President Mark Emmert says NCAA Division I basketball tournament games will not be open to the general public because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

Emmert said in a statement Wednesday that he made the decision to conduct both the men’s and women’s tournaments, which begin next week, with only essential staff and limited family in attendance. The decision comes after the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel of medical experts recommended against playing sporting events open to the general public.

Emmert said the NCAA also was looking into moving the men’s Final Four from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a smaller arena.

RELATED: Utah County health officials taking precautionary measures after COVID-19 patient attended BYU basketball game

The 68-team field for the men’s tournament is scheduled to be announced Sunday and the 64-team women’s tournament field is to be unveiled Monday. Games begin Tuesday and Wednesday on the men’s side in Dayton, Ohio, where earlier Wednesday the governor said he would issue an order to restrict spectator access to indoor sporting events.

The Mid-American Conference on Tuesday announced it was closing its men’s and women’s basketball tournament games at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and scheduled site of the men’s NCAA games, to the general public. The women’s tournament started Wednesday.

The Big West Conference announced a similar move, not allowing the general public into its basketball tournament games to be played this week at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

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Conference college basketball tournaments are in full swing across the country this week. The Atlantic Coast Conference is in Day 2 of its five-day men’s tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Pac-12 played the first game of its tournament in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Later Wednesday, the Southeastern Conference was to begin its men’s tournament in Nashville, Tennessee; the Big East was set to start at Madison Square Garden in New York, and the Big Ten was also scheduled to tip-off in Indianapolis. There were no plans to restrict fan access to those events.

March Madness hits another level next week with the start of the NCAA Tournament to crown a national champion, one of the most popular events on the American sports calendar.

There are eight first- and second-round sites for the men’s tournament, scheduled to be played March 19-22. Locations include Cleveland; Spokane, Washington; Albany, New York; Sacramento, California; and Omaha, Nebraska. The four regional sites for the second weekend of the tournament are Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Houston, and New York. The Final Four is scheduled to be held in at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, with the semifinals on April 4 and the championship game April 6.

The women’s tournament first- and second-round games begin March 21 and will be played at 16 sites, mostly on or close the campuses of the top-seeded teams. The regionals will be played in Dallas, Greenville, South Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Final Four will be held in New Orleans on April 3 and 5.

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AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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