Ohio will not be the only state holding NCAA Tournament games with no spectators next week.
Attendance for the entirety of the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be restricted to include only “essential staff and limited family” due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a statement from NCAA president Mark Emmert Wednesday.
“While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States,” Emmert said in the statement. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”
In a press conference prior to the NCAA announcement Wednesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said that under forthcoming rules regarding mass gatherings, first-round games in the NCAA Tournament, scheduled to begin March 17 in Dayton, Ohio, and March 20 in Cleveland, will not have spectators, but members of the media are allowed.
DeWine said the order on mass gatherings comes from a larger risk of contracting the virus in larger groups. For smaller events, DeWine said Ohioans should ask themselves if their attendance at the event is necessary and if there will be a great enough distance between others to not spread the disease.
The Big Ten Tournament, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis, will proceed as planned, according to a statement from the conference Wednesday before Emmert’s announcement.
However, postgame media availabilities for the Big Ten Tournament will be moved from team locker rooms to larger areas in the arena, according to the statement.
“We will continue to consult with Pacers Sports & Entertainment, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Marion County Public Health Department and the NCAA leading up to and during the event to implement best practices and provide the most current information,” the statement read.
The NCAA released a statement Tuesday that said a decision regarding its tournaments and events would be made “in the coming days,” and Emmert said the decision was made based on the advice of the NCAA Board of Governors.
Ohio State begins Big Ten Tournament play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against Purdue. Redshirt junior guard CJ Walker said the team is not concerned about playing before a mostly empty crowd moving forward.
“We practice in front of zero people every day,” Walker said. “We love to play basketball. We do this every day, so I mean it would most definitely be different playing in an actual game with nobody there or a lot of people there, but we grind and work every day with nobody there when nobody’s watching.”
Prior to the NCAA’s announcement, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said the team isn’t changing anything about its travel methods, but that it is subject to change once the team arrives in Indianapolis due to the fluid nature of the situation.