The fluid nature of the coronavirus crisis and how it’s affecting college athletics was on display Tuesday, and it’s hitting home with the NCAA Wrestling Championships, scheduled for next week in Minneapolis.
On Tuesday morning, Matt Holmes, an NCAA assistant director of championships and alliances, said the national wrestling tournament was scheduled to go on as planned March 19-21 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We don’t have any plans to cancel or modify anything at the 2020 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at this time,” Holmes said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, however, the NCAA issued a statement that indicated changes might be coming to any upcoming NCAA tournament or event.
“The NCAA continues to assess how COVID-19 impacts the conduct of our tournaments and events,’’ the statement read. “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.’’
That may or may not impact the wrestling tournament, which is being held in an NFL stadium for the first time. Organizers had hoped to shatter its attendance records, with 45,000 seats available for all six sessions.
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, NCAA President Mark Emmert issued a statement addressing the fact that some colleges and conferences have eliminated tournament games or are limiting who can attend.
“NCAA member schools and conferences make their own decisions regarding regular-season and conference tournament play,” Emmert said. “As we have stated, we will make decisions on our events based on the best, most current public health guidance available.
“Neither the COVID-19 Advisory Panel … nor the CDC or local health officials have advised against holding sporting events. In the event circumstances change, we will make decisions accordingly.”
Emmert’s statement came before Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that in that state, “We are asking for no [indoor sporting] events with spectators other than the athletes, parents, and others essential to the game.” That would include the First Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament next Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton.
Santa Clara County in California banned all large gatherings of at least 1,000 people until the end of the month, which could prevent Stanford from hosting games in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
The Ivy League on Tuesday announced it was canceling its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, along with implementing highly restrictive, in-venue spectator limitations for other sports and canceling all out-of-season practices and competitions.
Cornell announced that fans would not be allowed to attend its ECAC men’s hockey quarterfinal series against Princeton this weekend, nor the Big Red’s NCAA women’s hockey tournament quarterfinal game against Mercyhurst on Saturday in Ithaca, N.Y.
On Sunday, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, based in Troy, N.Y., announced the ECAC men’s hockey quarterfinal series between the Engineers and Harvard this weekend will be played without fans in the stands.
The Ohio governor’s recommendation would impact the Big Ten men’s hockey tournament, with Ohio State playing host to Michigan in the semifinals Sunday in Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Four major professional sports leagues — the NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer — announced Monday that they would close locker room and clubhouse access to all nonessential personnel, including media members.
College wrestling teams participated in conference tournaments last weekend, events the sport uses to fill the NCAA tournament field. Holmes said he had received no immediate reports of health issues. “They moved forward with their standard plans,” he said of conference tournament officials.
Holmes also said there were no current plans for additional testing of wrestlers in the NCAA tournament. “At this point, there’s no change in what we do. We have standard skin checks that are in our rule book,” he said referring to precautions against skin infections that have been problematic at times in wrestling. “Nothing outside of the normal realm of our standard precautions in terms of wrestling in general and the scope of what it is.
The University of Minnesota is the host school for the NCAA Wrestling Championships, and a spokesman from the university’s athletic department referred questions to the NCAA, which runs the tournament.
Holmes, the NCAA assistant director, on Tuesday morning left open the possibility that the organization’s plans could change with the circumstances. “We’ll continue to move forward unless state or local authorities supersede,” he said. “ ... It’s an evolving situation.’’
By Tuesday afternoon, that was evident.