CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Ivy League on Tuesday canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
The four-team tournaments were scheduled to be played Friday through Sunday at Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge. The Ivy League instead will award its automatic NCAA Tournament bids to the regular-season champions, the Princeton women and Yale men.
The tournaments are the first at the Division I basketball level to be canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Conference tournaments have been going on all over the country since last week at venues big and small. Most of the biggest conferences such as the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference begin their men’s tournaments this week at large arenas in major cities.
The NCAA men’s and women’s Division I tournaments begin next week. The NCAA has said it plans to play its games at the planned sites as scheduled with no adjustments to fan access but is monitoring the situation.
“NCAA member schools and conferences make their own decisions regarding regular season and conference tournament play,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said Tuesday in a statement. “As we have stated, we will make decisions on our events based on the best, most current public health guidance available.”
The Ivy League also announced Tuesday it will limit spectators at all other sporting events for the rest of the spring season.
The Princeton, New Jersey-based league said the decision was made in “accordance with the guidance of public health and medical professionals to discourage and limit large gatherings on campuses in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris said in a statement the league shares the disappointment of players and coaches.
“Regrettably, the information and recommendations presented to us from public health authorities and medical professionals have convinced us that this is the most prudent decision,” she said.
The league said all tickets will be refunded and ticket holders with questions should contact the Harvard ticket office.
The women’s tournament was scheduled to start Friday night, with top-seeded Princeton facing Columbia and No. 2 seed Penn facing Yale. The winners were to meet Saturday in the championship game.
The cancellation was not taken well by players and coaches of the teams. Columbia, which was to play in the tournament for the first time, was about to start practice when coach Megan Griffith shared the news.
“Their hearts are broken. Completely devastated. They should be,” she said. “We understand there are health risks. This is not something to be lightly taken. We don’t know what alternatives were discussed. It’s hard to swallow.”
The league held a conference call Monday with coaches and other school staff to go over tournament logistics. Penn women’s basketball coach Mike McLaughlin said that it was a “typical call where you say what you’re supposed to say.”
“There was not a great deal of depth behind it. I think we all knew something was going to change. It wasn’t going to sit the way it was a year ago. I didn’t sense it would be canceled out right.”
When McLaughlin learned of the cancellation, he quickly called his team together so players could find out from him and not through social media.
“When (coach) said it, I was in immediate shock,” Penn senior Kendall Grasela said. “We get the bid to the WNIT but don’t get a chance to compete for an NCAA slot. … I broke down, I could have played my last college game and not even known that.”
Grasela talked to the other team captains. The group reached out to the other Ivy League schools and has started an an online petition to get the tournament re-instated.
McLaughlin, Griffith and Grasela were all upset at what they see as inconsistencies in the league because other sports are still able to play this weekend and beyond while basketball is not.
“It’s difficult to swallow. That’s what we’re trying to deal with,” McLaughlin said. “We’re not able to play and now they are finding other sports are able to play. There’s an inconsistency of messages.”
The men’s tournament was to begin Saturday with top-seeded Yale playing Penn, followed by No. 2 seed Harvard facing Princeton. The men’s championship game was set for Sunday.
“It’s a bittersweet moment for us,” Yale spokesman Mike Gambardella said. “We’re happy our men will get an (automatic bid), but disappointed that our women won’t be able to compete for a championship.”
CBS and Turner held a conference call Tuesday for reporters to discuss the NCAA men’s tournament with network executives and some high-profile announcers, such as Jim Nantz and Charles Barkley. The call was scheduled after the usual in-person availability with reporters held in New York City was canceled out of what the networks said was an abundance of caution related to the outbreak.
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus and Jeff Zucker, chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports, said the NCAA is in constant contact with its television partners. They said decisions regarding whether to postpone or cancel games or limit fan access to venues will be made solely by the NCAA.
They said there are no plans to scale back the number of crew members and broadcasters working the tournament and that television production of the games would mostly remain the same if they were played without fans in venues.
“Obviously, it would be a different atmosphere and we wouldn’t be focusing as we often do on the excitement of the fans,” McManus said. “The basketball game is still going to be produced as it would if there are fans in the stands.”
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