The NCAA announced on Friday that it would welcome fans – tens of thousands of them – to Indianapolis and San Antonio, where entire men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are scheduled to take place this season, in a move that would generate millions in ticket revenue but risks Further spread of coronovirus to and from far-flung areas of the country.
Beginning March 18, the 68-team men’s tournament will be played in Indianapolis, with up to 25 percent of the crowd on the site of the quaint 9,100-seater Hink Fieldhouse where the film “Hoosiers” was filmed, Lucas Oil Fieldhouse, a The normal year can hold 70,000 fans for the regional finals and the final four.
The 64-team women’s tournament, starting March 21, will allow up to 17 percent of capacity from the regional semifinals through the championship finals in San Antonio. Those games will be played at the Almodom, which has a 31,900-seat capacity for basketball. The NCAA stated that crowds in the first and second round games, some of which would be played on small grounds, would be limited to several hundred friends and family members.) Capacity limits were set.
Still, many public health experts said they were surprised by the decision.
“I can’t see any good reasons for doing this, and I can see a lot of bad reasons for doing this,” said John Swartberg, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied infectious diseases And has served as an advisor to the Pac-12 Conference. “Bringing people from all over the country to a different place is just crazy.”
The NCAA decided to move its entire tournament, which is typically played at more than a dozen sites across the country, including Indianapolis and San Antonio, to create a more restrictive environment for the dozens of teams involved, and single- The elimination tournament has to be given. A greater chance of avoiding blockages due to positive tests.
Extensive measures are being taken to play the game. All athletes, coaches and staff members will be required to perform seven consecutive negative coronavirus tests before arriving in Indianapolis or San Antonio via a chartered aircraft or bus. Once they are there, the test will continue. All meals will be served in hotel rooms or in rooms with disturbed assignments. Players, coaches and staff members must also wear contact-detection equipment during the entire tournament that measures whether someone is within six feet of an infected person, who also wears an instrument.
Previously, it was planned for family and friends to participate in the game with each player, and for each the coach and staff member received six tickets. Those guests will be prohibited from interacting with players, coaches or staff members during the tournament.
But thousands of fans from across the country without the same measures pose a risk of turning the tournament into a super-spreader event, Ana Bento, assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
Fans will only need to wear masks and practice social distance in arenas.
“At this point in the epidemic, we can no longer say that we don’t know enough,” Bento said. “We know what we should do to reduce the risk. This is something that carries a lot of risk. “
Kathleen Bachinsky, assistant professor of public health at Muhlenberg College, said, “When you start bringing in thousands of people who haven’t come through these protocols prematurely, you’re actually adding a much higher level of risk . “
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“And what’s the benefit?” she added.
A benefit for the NCAA can receive a portion of the ticket revenue that would be expected in a specific year, and placing each tournament in one place should reduce some of the travel costs that the organization covers for teams. The NCAA said its revenue dropped by $ 600 million last month – a 50 percent drop – largely due to the cancellation of the men’s basketball tournament. The majority of NCAA revenue is redistributed to colleges, but the shortage forced the organization to cut reserves, cut salaries, and institute furloughs and layoffs. Its staff is about one-quarter smaller than it was a year ago, the NCAA president, Mark Emmert, told The New York Times last month.
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The NCAA said it would announce ticket sales information for the basketball tournament next month.
The decision to allow fans comes at a fluid moment in the epidemic. Known cases are declining and thousands of people are being vaccinated every day in the United States, but those steps may be offset by new variants of the virus that spread more aggressively and are easily detected by some vaccines Counters cannot be countered. At the moment, many cities are trying to figure out how to fully open the schools.
Circumstances can change until the tournament begins or ends – the final games have over 17,500 men and approximately 5,500 spectators watching for women.
But some things won’t change: The virus is more easily permeable indoors, making the field of basketball more susceptible to spreading the virus than an open-air football stadium. And fans, even if they are masked and sitting at a recommended distance from each other while watching the game, are going to spend time on other activities in the host cities.
“It’s not just all these people in the stands,” Swartberg said. “All these people are staying in a hotel and eating in a restaurant and drinking in a bar. Indianapolis is probably going to celebrate what’s going on. All these things have no meaning in the midst of an epidemic. “
He Added: “I can understand the logic of the parents or siblings of the players to participate. But up to 25 percent of the capacity to open it? The only reason to do this is not player safety or family protection – it is to sell tickets. “