In the wake of Purdue President Mitch Daniels’ announcement that the University would transition to online instruction after spring break, the athletics department initially confirmed it had no plans to alter or cancel future events. Since then, several organizations have announced plans to play games without an audience.
“We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation,” said Chris Peludat, associate athletics director for marketing and fan experience.
In an email Tuesday, the University announced it would suspend all University-sponsored events involving external visitors through the end of the semester due to the spread of COVID-19. This did not extend to athletic events.
Purdue is set to travel to Indianapolis today to play in the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament, and the University is likely to host the first two rounds of the National Invitational Tournament if Purdue receives a bid on Sunday.
“It’s obviously a very fluid situation,” said Christopher Forman, strategic communications director for men’s basketball, “but we are proceeding as normal.”
The NCAA makes the first move at an institutional level
Only hours after these decisions were made, NCAA President Mark Emmert released a statement formally restricting the Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments to essential personnel and immediate family.
“This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and — most importantly — our student-athletes,” Emmert said.
His announcement came shortly after the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel issued a statement Wednesday afternoon recommending that sporting events be closed to the public.
“We do believe sport events can take place with only essential personnel and limited family attendance, and this protects our players, employees and fans,” the statement said.
The games will still be open to print and broadcast media, so coverage of the events will be available to fans.
The recommendation comes after multiple tournament cancellations and restrictions by individual conferences including the Ivy League, Big East and Mid-American Conference.
Some believe the NCAA might go even further.
According to a tweet from Chris Hassel, host of CBS Sports HQ, a major conference official informed a CBS reporter that “a total cancellation (of) the NCAA tournament is definitely a possibility.”
The Big Ten follows suit
Two hours after the NCAA’s decision was released, the Big Ten reversed its initial decision to proceed as normal, and elected to host the remainder of the men’s basketball tournament without fans as well.
The statement read:
“Beginning Thursday, March 12, 2020, attendance at all Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament games 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 Ten further said that any and all future Big Ten conference sporting events will take place without fans for the remainder of the season.
The Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference responded to the NCAA’s announcement saying they would hold the first day of games in their conference tournaments as regularly scheduled, but would re-evaluate the standing of later games.
By the end of Wednesday night, all Power Five conferences had announced that they would play out their tournaments with restricted audiences.
Further athletic events
Basketball season is winding down, but spring sports such as baseball and softball are just beginning conference play after spring break.
Purdue Athletics announced in a tweet Wednesday night that “all Purdue-related athletic activities will be closed to the public until further notice.”
Purdue tennis teams are unsure of their future plans, but the women’s team is still scheduled to host the Big Ten Tournament.
Many of Purdue’s tennis players are international students, including junior Seira Shimizu, who is from Japan.
“Now because of the coronavirus, I have to think whether I go back to Japan or not in the summer,” she said, “so it’s confusing, and it’s stressful.”
Purdue did not provide comment about how this initial announcement would affect Purdue Grand Prix, as that event is not within the athletics department’s jurisdiction. Daniels said Wednesday that Grand Prix “is being reexamined.”
The Grand Prix Foundation announced Wednesday night that the 63rd running would be canceled over virus fears.
“The health and safety of the community is our priority,” the statement said. “We are deeply sorry to put this valued tradition on hold and for inconveniences this may have created for you.”
There is no word as of now if recent decisions will affect the remainder of ongoing conference tournaments. In regards to the National Invitational Tournament, Daniels said discussions are ongoing.
“Our indoor sports schedule has just ended essentially,” he said. “One possible exception is if there’s an NIT bid, and we don’t know what we would do. We have raised the question that we would play without fans.”
The NCAA has not released a statement directly about the NIT as of Wednesday.