Coronavirus: US college basketball makes contingency plans for March Madness in case of outbreak

If coronavirus forces the cancellation of the NCAA’s basketball tournaments, the organisation has reserve funds and a business-interruption insurance policy to cover financial losses

Matt Bonesteel
Tuesday 03 March 2020 17:47
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Duke Blue Devils in action against North Carolina State Wolfpack
Duke Blue Devils in action against North Carolina State Wolfpack

With its high-profile basketball tournaments starting later this month, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCA) is establishing contingency plans in case they are affected by the US coronavirus outbreak.

“If you can think of it, it’s something that we’ve gone through an analysis around,” Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief operating officer, told Bloomberg. “We’ve contingency planned for all circumstances.”

Six people in Washington state have died of coronavirus, with four of the deaths linked to a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, a Seattle suburb. Spokane, nearly 300 miles to the east, is scheduled to host first- and second-round games of the men’s NCAA tournament on 19 and 21 March. Neither that city nor its surrounding area have had any confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the Spokesman-Review.

The NCAA women’s basketball tournament runs concurrently with the men’s tournament, with first- and second-round games at campus sites. Spokane-based Gonzaga, ranked 12th in the nation, is projected to host games.

Portland, Oregon, is one of the four regional sites, and the state of Oregon has had three presumptive cases of coronavirus. The University of Oregon, ranked third in the latest Associated Press women’s basketball poll, is certain to host first- and second-round tournament games, and No. 14 Oregon State also has a chance.

The National College Players Association, a nonprofit organisation that advocates for the rights and safety of student-athletes, last week asked the NCAA to consider playing its basketball tournament games “without an audience present” to help protect athletes.

According to Bloomberg, the NCAA has formed a medical advisory group that includes Vivek H Murthy, who served as US surgeon general under two presidents, and NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline, a neurologist who said the NCAA had yet to arrive at a decision date regarding the basketball tournaments.

Conference basketball tournaments begin Tuesday, and a number of conferences told The Post’s Rick Maese that they are monitoring the situation and will rely upon their bylaws in case of an interruption. In the case of the Western Athletic Conference, for instance, league rules state that the tournament’s No 1 seed will receive the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament if its basketball tournament is cancelled.

If coronavirus forces the cancellation of the NCAA’s basketball tournaments, Remy told Bloomberg that the organisation has reserve funds and a business-interruption insurance policy that would partially cover any financial losses. The men’s basketball tournament is a massive financial driver for the NCAA, with more than four-fifths of its $1.1 billion (£860m) in 2018 revenue coming from media contracts and licensing for the tournament. Almost all of that revenue is redistributed to member schools.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of these student-athletes,” Remy told Bloomberg. “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.”

Washington Post

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