Major conferences following NCAA Tournament’s lead in restricting fans over coronavirus concerns

Six of college basketball’s most visible conferences are following the lead of the NCAA. Beginning with Thursday’s games, the general public will not be allowed to attend their men’s basketball tournaments in response to the coronavirus.

The Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, AAC, Pac-12 and SEC each made similar announcements Wednesday evening just hours after the NCAA announced that the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week, will be restricted to “only essential staff and limited family attendance.”

“The main priority of the Big Ten Conference is to ensure the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, fans and media as we continue to monitor all relevant information on the COVID-19 virus on a daily basis,” the Big Ten said in its announcement.

The NCAA’s move left individual leagues to figure out if they should follow their lead and restrict attendance at conference tournaments that are scheduled to continue through Sunday. The ACC cited the “rapidly changing landscape regarding COVID-19” in its decision to restrict public access. By 9:30 p.m. Eastern, the Big East was the only major conference that had not announced a restricted attendance policy for the rest of the week.

Other leagues, such as the MAC and Big West, restricted their conference tournaments to the public before the NCAA’s decision on Wednesday, while the Ivy League cancelled its league tournament Tuesday — and all spring sports on Wednesday — amid concern over the coronavirus.

But it was clear Wednesday that the NCAA’s decision to close the NCAA Tournament to the public set the precedent that conference tournaments fell in line with that decision, even as fans filled arenas around the country for first-and second-round conference tournament games.

The SEC cited the NCAA COVID-19 Advisory Panel’s recommendation against allowing fans in its statement, which was released between its two first-round games on Wednesday.

“We regret the inconvenience and disappointment this decision has caused our fans, especially those who have already traveled to Nashville for the tournament,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in the statement.

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