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March Sadness, but the decision to limit crowd sizes at NCAA tourney games makes sense

By limiting the size of crowds at the NCAA Tournament, the NCAA decided to err on the side of caution, and that’s the prudent thing to do in these times of an insidious foe.

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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.


March Sadness.

It is official. The NCAA will limit attendance to its most popular event, March Madness. This is a move that will limit arena crowds to essential personnel and family members only. No crowded arenas.

“Is this warranted? Is this an overreaction or proper action taken by the NCAA? Well, the bottom line is that this limitation on crowd size, as a prevention, can’t hurt. Better to be safe than sorry.” — Dick Harmon

In an act to address the increasing concerns over the spread of COVID-19, NCAA President Mark Emmert made the announcement Wednesday afternoon after consulting with an advisory committee tasked with studying health threats at the national championship tournament’s various sites for both men’s and women’s basketball competitions.

Both Utah State and BYU are expected to be involved in the NCAA Tournament when the selection committee announces bracket participants on Sunday.

We knew this was coming.

A week ago in this space, I speculated if college conferences would tweak their league tournaments because of it. Now, the Big Daddy of them all actually has.

This comes after the governor of Washington banned three counties from having any crowds larger than 250 people. It comes from conventions around the country being canceled and owners of the College Basketball Invitational tournament, the little brother to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), canceling its postseason affair entirely. The city of Houston canceled a huge, historically popular rodeo.

It comes after USA Today college columnist Dan Wolken furiously hit social media the past 48 hours demanding the NCAA cancel the Big Dance. It comes after the NBA shut down its locker rooms to media before and after games.

Is this warranted?

Is this an overreaction or proper action taken by the NCAA?

Well, the bottom line is that this limitation on crowd size, as a prevention, can’t hurt. Better to be safe than sorry.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson told Jeff Goodman of Stadium, “We are fortunate to be able to play. None of us are qualified to comment on medical decisions. So let’s make the most of it and pray for those that have been affected.”

The Big 12 will give each team 125 tickets this week for its conference tournament and athletic directors decided those tickets would be given to guests of players. A similar move could be made by the NCAA at various venues. The NCAA is already discussing downsizing arenas to be used after the first two rounds.

Teams can play inside arenas with a few fans. It happens all the time, but the electricity, noise and atmosphere will be completely different, almost mausoleum like.

However, it’s better to play in a crypt or tomb than call it your home.

The most recent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts in Atlanta is that the coronavirus is not going away any time soon — rather it will get worse before it gets better. The disease is more dangerous for the elderly over 60 and very dangerous for those with health problems like diabetes, cancer or immune systems already stressed or compromised.

The younger folks, as in student-athletes, are in a group that is considered at a lower risk of dying. But the NCAA isn’t taking any chances.

Nationally, this is a huge debate. Are we scaring people over a tiny risk, or is this a wise plan for the nation to reduce crowd sizes to slow it down?

Actually, if you look at Italy, Iran and China’s experience with huge numbers, it is wise to slow things down. Prevention or elimination may be near impossible. But slowing down the spread will save our hospitals and health systems from being overwhelmed, and save lives.

That, fans, is the rub in this.  

No doubt this will be a devastating financial hit for hotels, restaurants, airlines, taxis, car rental agencies and a lot of regular people who benefit from big events.

BYU, which should learn of its at-large bid Sunday, and Utah State, which has already punched its ticket to the Big Dance, are fortunate to have earned the opportunity to compete in it.

It is an accomplishment to be celebrated by all.

But the arenas they play in do not have to be filled to the rafters at this time.

Many fans would be just fine going to these games, crowding in and rubbing shoulders.  Many might be exposed, feel a little uncomfortable for a few days and be on their merry way.

But this COVID-19 thing is treacherous. It is insidious. That same fan may, in turn, make a visit to a grandparent they love after exposure a few days later and unknowingly make an easy handoff of the virus. And for them, it could be a completely different story.

It’s not time to go nuts and panic, but it is a time when a little inconvenience could save the lives of the most vulnerable.

Our hospitals are going to get hit. It’s only a matter of time.

Let’s just not put doctors and nurses in a situation where they have to choose who to treat because they are overwhelmed all at once with patients in waiting rooms and hallways.  And amassing in huge crowds is the prime road to that kind of state.

Tip it up, play hard, cut down nets.

It can all still be witnessed on TV.