By Michael Bennett
Even though the NCAA has announced that March Madness will not include fans due to the spread of coronavirus, Big East commish Val Ackerman said spectators will be allowed at Madison Square Garden and a cancellation isn’t currently in the league’s plans.
“We’re looking to the city of New York for our direction and at this point they have advised us they are not recommending cancellation of large gatherings,” she said.
So far, no power conferences have canceled or prohibited fans from their postseason tournaments due to the pandemic. The Ivy League canceled its tournament, while the MAC and Big Sky have banned spectators.
Ackerman made it clear that if the city’s health organizations and public officials change their tune, the league has contingency plans in place, and it will reassess the situation at the end of each night. That would include a refund for fans who cannot use their tickets.
“You have to look at what the government is saying, and if the government as of this point is saying you can still run the tournament, you still run the tournament as it is,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said.
The Big East has made some changes already. Media members will not be allowed in locker rooms and fans will be kept at a distance from players. Ackerman said the conference isn’t opposed to playing the tournament without fans, if that what is recommended to them. But she feels the NCAA Tournament is different than the Big East Tournament because it doesn’t begin until next week.
“I think their guidance is probably that the virus is going to escalate in the coming week-plus,” Ackerman said. “They’re arguably in a different position than we are, because our tournament is starting tonight and continuing for the next three days. [Their decision] is constructive to us, but I think we’re going to continue, at least for tonight, to confer with the city of New York.
“This is fast-moving, everybody. … We’re all trying the best we can and make the decisions that we have to make with the information we have.”
Ackerman noted the Garden hosted a concert Tuesday night and there has been no suggestion from the facility to make any alterations to the tourney.
“We’re just relying on the expertise we’ve gotten, which have said we are, based on guidance they are giving us, conducting what they think is a safe event at this time,” Ackerman said. “That’s all we can go on.”