March 11 (UPI) -- The NCAA announced Wednesday the men's and women's basketball tournaments will take place without fans in attendance because of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement the unprecedented decision was made after consulting with public health officials and its advisory panel in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, which has infected more than 1,000 people across the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel," Emmert said Wednesday. "Based on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA Board of Governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance.
"While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on the current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States. This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes.
"We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed."
The NCAA's announcement came hours after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he will issue an order that would ban fans from attending NCAA tourney games in Cleveland and First Four games in Dayton, Ohio.
The Division I men's basketball tournament, known as March Madness, is one of the most popular annual events on the American sports calendar, attracting hundreds of thousands of fans around the country.
After the NCAA's decision, the 67-game men's tournament will be played in empty venues at 14 sites across the country, beginning Tuesday with the First Four games in Dayton, Ohio. The women's tournament will take place at 16 sites, mostly on or close to the campuses of the top-seeded teams.
The 68-team men's field is scheduled to be unveiled Sunday, and the 64-team women's field is to be announced Monday.