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NCAA tournament games will be played with no fans in the stands, just 'essential staff' and select family members

The NCAA took the drastic step of closing the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments to the public.

The governing body made the announcement Wednesday afternoon as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement:

“The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel. Based on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA board of governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance. 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’s statement came after the NCAA issued a statement saying that it recommended against sporting events being open to the public.

The men’s Final Four is currently set to be held at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which seats over 70,000. The NCAA could move the games to a smaller venue because the stadium would be virtually empty. The first- and second-round games, which begin on March 19, are set to proceed as scheduled in the host cities.

CBS and Turner plan to broadcast the tournament as originally scheduled.

“We support the NCAA’s decision to proceed without fans at the tournament venues. We will continue with our plans to fully produce and cover the entire event,” CBS Sports and Turner Sports said in a joint statement.

Major conferences following NCAA’s lead

In the hours after the NCAA made its decision, the Big Ten and Big 12 both announced that they will limit access to their tournaments starting Thursday. Both conference basketball tournaments began with fans in the stands on Wednesday evening.

The Big Ten specified that attendance will be limited to “student-athletes, coaches, event staff, essential team and conference staff, TV network partners, credentialed media, and immediate family members of the participating teams.”

The Big 12 will take a similar approach, commissioner Bob Bowlsby told reporters.

The ACC, AAC, SEC, Big East and Pac-12 followed suit hours later.

The Big West and MAC made the decision to hold their tournaments without fans Tuesday. The Ivy League opted to cancel its men’s and women’s postseason basketball tournaments altogether. The move meant the Yale men’s team, the regular-season winner of the league, will represent the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament. Princeton will represent the women’s side.

NCAA tournament to begin March 17 in Dayton

Emmert’s statement also came hours after Ohio banned gatherings of large groups. The NCAA’s first four games of the men’s tournament are scheduled to be held in Dayton on Tuesday and March 18, and would have been played under a state decree for no general fan attendance without a move by the NCAA.

The city of Houston canceled the remainder of the Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show on Wednesday after a man who tested positive for the coronavirus attended a barbecue at the event. The city is set to host the South Regional finals of the men’s tournament on March 27 and 29. 

The NIT will also be held without fans. The consolation tournament for the men’s basketball teams who missed out on the Big Dance is run by the NCAA.

The NCAA is the first sports governing body to make a widespread decree to play games without fans. While local government orders will impact NBA games in San Francisco and MLB games in Seattle, the college governing body could be the first of many entities to institute its own rules to help contain the virus as it spreads across the country.

A view of the March Madness logo on center court before of an NCAA Midwest Regional Sweet Sixteen game in 2019. (Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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