Less than two weeks away from the start of the NCAA Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments, the association is considering how to proceed safely amid an outbreak of coronavirus COVID-19.
The NCAA's COVID-19 advisory panel said Friday it is “not recommending cancellation or public spacing of athletic and related events scheduled to occur in public spaces across the United States.” But contingency plans are being discussed that include playing games with only essential personnel present.
The AP on Friday interviewed NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline and advisory board member Dr. Carlos del Rio, chairman of the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. This is an edited version of the highlights of that interview.
Hainline: We have we're making plans to proceed with our championships, which are numerous in the spring. And at the same time, we have developed all the contingency plans and they're all based on what is in the best interests of public health. So that's our first statement that we're going to do what's in the best interest of public health. And for the health and safety of our student athletes. And so the way we have done that, then, besides simply working with the CDC, we have a panel of experts. And it really is looking at it as individuals across the country who are really well-respected as the experts in public health, population health, infectious disease and security at-large events. We meet with them regularly. They are guiding us along with the public-health guidance. And then we're also being guided by what the local and state health officials are telling us. And so although one can say the NCAA makes the decision, the NCAA's decisions in this are unequivocally guided by what the health officials are telling us and what our advisory panel is telling us. But we have all the contingency plans worked out.
AP: Could you elaborate on the contingency plans?
Hainline: There are contingency scenarios whereby we're told by public health officials or the advisory panel tells us, look, it's not reasonable to hold this event in a large public forum and or in a public forum. And it has to be with people that we know are not contagious. So, you know, that probably is the the ultimate scenario that we're ready for.
AP: If contingency plans need to be put in place to play events and games, how does that decision get made and who is involved?
Hainline: So there are two levels, so internally we actually have a team, it really is essentially our senior management team and our general counsel. We've been meeting twice a day for the past week. And really it's just to make certain that we're all up on this. But then the second layer is my involvement with the advisory panel. And what they're sharing with me and what to do. And then the third level is working with the event organizers. And what they need to do, what they need to understand and the fact that we may need to go to a different level. And then the fourth level is really working with the ticket agency ticket policies and airlines and all sorts of those. So we have really sort of like four very moving parts and all interconnected.
But the ultimate decision tree is going to be between the health department, the advisory panel, and then them together advising us about what really makes the most sense from a public health perspective.
del Rio: I find it a little bit similar to how airlines make decisions. If a pilot is going to decide to take off or not on a storm. The other day I was on a flight going to D.C. and the pilot said, 'You know, there's a thunderstorm over D.C. airport, we're going to circle for another 20 minutes, see if we can get that storm to pass. If not, we're going to divert to another place.' I think our pilot is making the right decision. He is saying, let's wait and see and then let's make a decision. If it's not safe, we're going to go somewhere else. And I would say that's how decision making is made. You don't say, 'Well, let's do something risky.' And I think that's going to be the way we're going to think about this.
Hainline: You're making projections for how you're going to plan for a hurricane that might, might or might not hit two weeks from now.