USC basketball’s expected appearance in the NCAA Tournament will not be in front of fans because of coronavirus concerns.
UPDATE 3/12: On Thursday, the Pac-12 canceled the conference tournament along with all other sports competitions until further notice. Other conferences like the Big Ten, SEC, Big-12 and more also suspended their tournaments.
NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the decision to limit public attendance at NCAA events on Wednesday, including the NCAA Tournament, as concerns of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus increase.
That means when the Trojans make their first appearance in March Madness in two years, as expected, they will do so with considerably less madness than usual. At least inside the arena.
CHECK OUT: USC closes Spring Camp practices to fans
It is not yet clear if the Pac-12 Tournament will be impacted by the NCAA’s ruling. The conference had indicated on Tuesday that their tournament would continue as scheduled, though media access to locker rooms would be restricted.
Here is Emmert’s official statement from Wednesday:
"The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel. 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."
USC is the No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, but they appear to have improved their resume just enough to secure a place in the NCAA Tournament regardless of the results of the conference tournament. That’s not to say the Trojans won’t put their all into claiming their first conference tournament title since 2009 with or without fans in the building.
Leading the way are Onyeka Okongwu, the All-Pac-12 first-teamer and freshman phenom, and Jonah Mathews, the senior who was named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team for 2019-20.
Nick Rakocevic will also be there for a final hurrah. It’s his quote which summed up the disappointment many are feeling over the lack of fans in Mach Madness.
“The whole point of March Madness is having fans there,” Rakocevic was quoted by Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.
Even as the Pac-12 indicated it would go ahead with the tournament and the NCAA mulled their options, universities were already installing their own travel restrictions which would impact the crowds. USC opted not to send the band or the spirit squad, introducing a policy wherein only essential university personnel will be allowed to travel on university business for the next three weeks.
On-campus events will also be held without spectators, for the time being, USC announced on Tuesday night. Games can only involve players, coaches, staff, and family while even the Trojans’ Spring Camp practices were closed to the public until the end of March.