The Big East has elected to allow its conference tournament to pursue as originally planned — for now.
After consulting with health experts on the risk of spreading COVID-19 in a large group setting, the NCAA issued a statement Wednesday afternoon stating that spectators would not be allowed at both the men’s and women’s tournaments.
The Big East has opted to go in a different direction, as commissioner Val Ackerman said that the tournament would be played with spectators until the city of New York and its health officials dictate otherwise. The Big East Tournament begins on Wednesday night with No. 8 seed St. John’s taking on No. 9 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed Marquette taking on No. 10 seed DePaul.
“[The NCAA Tournament] is starting next week, so I think their guidance is that the virus will escalate in the coming week-plus,” Ackerman said. “They’re in a different position than us because our tournament is starting tonight and over the next three days. I think we’re going to continue, for at least tonight, to defer to the city of New York. I expect I’ll be in contact with them tonight to share this information and confer with them.”
Other cities have issued ordinances banning mass gatherings. New York has yet to do so, meaning the Big East can continue to host its conference tournament with spectators presence until the city says otherwise.
“We would consider [playing the tournament without fans after tonight’s games] if that is the direction the city wants to go in,” Ackerman said.
Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard voiced his support for Ackerman, praising her decision to side with city orders.
“I think you still run the tournament the way it is,” Willard said. “I’ve had probably 500 texts saying if they ban [spectators], I’m coming through the gates anyway. They had 19,000 here last night. I think Val is doing an extremely smart thing by listening to the government agencies. That’s who you have to listen to. A college president can’t make this decision. I think she’s doing a great job by listening to what the government and the local government are telling her.”
Willard was also understanding of the NCAA’s decision to host its tournament without spectators in an effort to be proactive in preventing the spread of coronavirus.
“I think the fact that in Houston, I think they’re not allowing sporting events right now, I think what they’re doing is being proactive and saying ‘let’s make sure we can run the best Tournament possible,” Willard said. “I think the best way to do it is without fans. I think they’re being proactive, which is good.”
Seton Hall begins Big East Tournament play tomorrow night against Marquette. Whether spectators will be allowed remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain:
The Big East Tournament will be played to its conclusion.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.