Ahead of March Madness, one of the biggest sports betting events on the US calendar, the NCAA has established a COVID-19 advisory panel of leading medical, public health and epidemiology experts and NCAA member schools to guide its response to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease.

The NCAA’s premier basketball competition is scheduled to get underway later this month, but there has already been a request from a college-player-advocacy group suggesting that March Madness fixtures should be contested behind closed doors. 

“The NCAA is committed to conducting its championships and events in a safe and responsible manner,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief operating officer. “Today we are planning to conduct our championships as planned, however, we are evaluating the COVID-19 situation daily and will make decisions accordingly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low for the general public right now. However, the potential for a future public health threat is very high within the US and globally, it said.

“The NCAA will make decisions that are first and foremost reflective of medical best practices and keeps the health and safety of student-athletes, administrators and fans as the number one priority,” Remy said.

Any move to contest fixtures without fans present would mark a similar step taken by the US organization’s global counterparts in countries such as in Japan where both soccer and baseball games are currently being played out in empty stadiums.

Along with the NCAA, other professional leagues within the US including the NHL, NBA, Masters and MLB have all confirmed that they have contacted the CDC and suggested precautions for both athletes and fans. 

Both the NHL and NBA seasons are now underway, with the MLB and Masters golf competition scheduled to commence by April. However, despite the fears regarding the global outbreak and the contact with the CDC no events have yet been affected. 

A statement released by the PGA, organizers of the Masters tour, read: “We conduct more than 175 tournaments across our six tours and the health and safety of our players, employees, fans, partners, volunteers and everyone associated with the PGA Tour continues to be our No. 1 priority.

“There are no planned schedule changes beyond what has already been decided. However, we are establishing additional protocols to promote the health and safety of all participants and fans at our tournaments, and we will regularly review our schedule in light of the revised CDC and World Health Organization reports.”

At the time of writing, COVID-19 has infected roughly 95,00 individuals worldwide, with the US accounting for over 150 of those cases and suffering 11 fatalities so far.  

Although no major US sporting events are yet to be cancelled the virus continues to spread with the message coming out of the organizing camps that ‘safety of employees, teams, players and fans is paramount’.