Opinion: Time out? Could March Madness 2020 find itself victim to COVID-19?


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SXSW was forced to cancel its annual event after the City of Austin chose to cancel it over Coronavirus fears.  The move sent SWSW, who’s held the event annually since 1987, in a spiral.  On Monday SWSX LLC announced it would be laying off over a third of its workforce due to the move. 

In 2019, it’s estimated the City of Austin raised over $157 million dollars thanks to the event. Company CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson, who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, told them in an interview they plan to carry on in 2021, but “how we’re going to do that, I’m not entirely sure.”

Could March Madness be far behind?

With the annual basketball tournament tipoff set for less than a week away in Dayton, OH, one has to wonder if the ax could hit sooner than later.  Already, Ohio’s Governor has requested indoor events be restricted to students, parents and essential staff.   

 “Other than the athletes, parents, and other essentials to the game,” Ohio Govenor Mike DeWine announced on Tuesday for Indoor sporting events should take place without spectators over COVID-19 fears.

That’s just for starters.  This year’s Final Four will be held in Atlanta, GA.  The State currently has 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Events across the State have already had events cancel on them.  Most recently the Special Olympics Georgia who suspended games statewide ahead of Coronavirus fears.  The games would have been held in Columbia County, roughly two hours east of Atlanta. On Wednesday, a Waffle House in Canton, less than an hour from Atlanta, was closed for cleaning due to a worker at the restaurant testing positive for COVID-19, Waffle House Inc announced.

The Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Championships were also canceled earlier this week. 

Cases continue to get closer to large gatherings. 

The first round of the Big Ten Tournament starts later today in Indianapolis when Northwestern takes on  Minnesota.  Earlier today an employee at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis tested positive for COVID-19, less than 10 minutes away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Professional teams alike are feeling the fallout of gathering bans across the United States.

In Seattle, the Seattle Mariners have taken steps to fight the disease, announcing on Wednesday they would not play any of their seven scheduled home games in the City of Seattle.  The announcement comes in the wake of Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban on gatherings and events of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties earlier today. 

Seattle resides in King County.

On Tuesday officials in Santa Clara County announced a public ban on private or public mass gatherings of 1,000 people or more for the remainder of March.  The NHL’s San Jose Sharks reside inside the County.

“It’s concerning obviously, number one for the safety of everyone in the world, but California and obviously Santa Clara. I think that if that’s what they’re saying is that we can’t play in front of crowds then we’re going to have to deal with it,” said Bob Boughner Sharks interim head coach.

This past weekend, the NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS took steps to protect players, announcing they would be restricting access to Media during the pandemic.

One thing is clear.  Anxiety is running high among the public.

The NCAA continues to monitor the situation:

 “The NCAA continues to assess how COVID-19 impacts the conduct of our tournaments and events,” the collegiate governing body wrote in a statement. “We are consulting with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel, who are leading experts in epidemiology and public health, and will make decisions in the coming days.” 

In a statement before Congress on Wednesday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health testified on Capitol Hill.  “We would recommend that there not be large crowds,” he stated.  “If that means not having any people in the audience … so be it. But as a public health official, anything that has large crowds is something that would give a risk to spread.”

In the 2018-19 fiscal year, the NCAA made $867.5 million from March Madness television and marketing rights alone. Could a nearly billion-dollar revenue maker actually be canceled?

The NCAA has said it would consult with public health officials before altering or proceeding with the events.  The University of Indiana announced on Tuesday it is asking students not to return to campus following Spring Break.  All classes at the university will be held online.  Indiana has reported 10 counts of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Marion, Hendricks, Johnson, Howard, Noble, Adams and Boone counties.  The University is located in Monroe County, which has yet to see a case.

It’s time for the NCAA to do the right thing and lay down the law ahead of the weekend of travel for March Madness 2020…which could have you seeing mass hysteria in a stadium full of people should cough or sneeze breaks out during one of the hundreds of time outs.

Shane Saathoff
Shane Saathoffhttp://www.SocialSnowball.com
An active writer for two decades, Shane's focuses on local news and events throughout the area, Shane is an active historian, science nerd, and tech geek. Shane is a native of Bourbonnais, IL, and alumni of Olivet Nazarene University.


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