A Division III NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game happened without spectators at Johns Hopkins University on Friday. The game is thought to be the first sporting event in the United States where fans were banned due to coronavirus concerns, a scene that could become more common in the months to follow as the disease continues to spread through North America.
Italy has already declared all sporting events will be spectator-less until April 3, as the disease has spread rapidly in the Mediterranean nation, but no major sporting events in the United States have been canceled yet. The basketball game between Yeshiva University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, however, banned spectators while the former school deals with a student who tested positive for COVID-19, which shut down classes at the Jewish private institute in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood.
D3 NCAA Tournament hoops game today at Johns Hopkins believed to be 1st US sporting event held with no fans alllowed because of coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/62tomNlJwm
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) March 6, 2020
Associated Press sports reporter Stephen Whyno was at the site of the tournament game and reported on the eerie scene, where no fans were allowed from either side to see the tournament game.
The game was delayed by more than an hour after a Yeshiva rabbi tested positive and the school needed to provide documentation to ensure it was safe to play. WPI waited at its hotel while that was completed.
Whyno reported on the unprecedented scene of a game happening without fans, noting that advertisements encouraging fan involvement and social media tagging ran despite anyone to hear them.
The scene included players on each team’s bench cheering and chanting “De-fense!” to make up for the lack of fans. Only players, referees, employees and media members were present in the 1,100-seat Goldfarb Gymnasium, so the official attendance was 0.
“It was definitely different, but our guys on the bench really made up for it,” Yeshiva coach Elliott Steinmetz said the 102-78 win. “The energy on the bench was absolutely awesome, and I think it really carried the guys on the court in a big way.”
The NCAA’s coronavarus advisory panel on Friday said it is “not recommending cancellation or public spacing of athletic and related events scheduled to occur in public spaces across the United States” just yet, but the situation has some concerned about major sporting events as the scope of the pandemic widens.