Ohio order would force NCAA Tournament games without fans

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FILE – In this March 18, 2015, file photo, the NCAA logo is displayed at center court as work continues at The Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, for the NCAA college basketball tournament. The NCAA took a significant step toward allowing all Division I athletes to transfer one time without sitting out a season of competition. A plan to change the waiver process is expected to be presented to the Division I Council in April, 2020. If adopted, new criteria would go into effect for the 2020-21 academic year and be a boon for athletes in high-profile sports such as football and men’s and women’s basketball. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

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An order from the governor of Ohio to restrict spectator access to indoor sporting events because of concerns about the coronavirus would force the NCAA to play men’s basketball tournament games in the state without fans present.

The NCAA had no immediate response Wednesday after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said he would be issuing an order regarding “mass gatherings.”

The NCAA men’s and women’s Division I basketball tournaments begin next week at sites across the country. The first four game of the men’s tournament are scheduled to be played in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday and Wednesday. First- and second-round games are scheduled to be played in Cleveland on March 20 and 22.

DeWine said he will be issuing an order in the next 24 to 36 hours.

“The order will be that there cannot be spectators there. There certainly will be people — there will be TV people, there can be radio people there, there can be sports writers, certainly can be the media there. But we’re not going to have the large crowd.”

On Tuesday, DeWine recommended all indoor sporting events — high school, college and professional — restrict spectator access.

The Mid-American Conference responded by closing its men’s and women’s basketball tournament games at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and scheduled site of the men’s NCAA games, to the general public. The women’s tournament started Wednesday.

The Big West Conference announced a similar move, not allowing the general public into its basketball tournament games to be played this week at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

Conference college basketball tournaments are in full swing across the country this week. The Atlantic Coast Conference is in Day 2 of its five-day men’s tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Pac-12 played the first game of its tournament in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Later Wednesday, the Southeastern Conference was to begin its men’s tournament in Nahsville, Tennessee; the Big East was set to start at Madison Square Garden in New York; and the Big Ten was also scheduled to tip off in Indianapolis. There were no plans to restrict fan access to those events.

March Madness hits another level next week with the start of the NCAA Tournament to crown a national champion, one of the most popular events on the American sports calendar.

The 68-year men’s field is scheduled to be announced Sunday and the 64-team women’s tournament field was set to be unveiled Monday.

There are eight first- and second-round sites for the men’s tournament, scheduled to be played March 19-22. Locations include Cleveland; Spokane, Washington; Albany, New York; Sacramento, California; and Omaha, Nebraska. The four regional sites for the second weekend of the tournament are Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Houston and New York. The Final Four is scheduled to be held in at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, with the semifinals on April 4 and the championship game April 6.

The women’s tournament first- and second-round games begin March 21 and will be played at 16 sites, mostly on or close the campuses of the top seeded teams. The regionals will be playedin Dallas, Greenville, South Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Final Four will be held in New Orleans on April 3 and 5.


AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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