March Madness: NCAA Tournaments canceled due to coronavirus

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The seating area at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is empty as media and staff mill about, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Indianapolis, after the Big Ten Conference announced that remainder of the men's NCAA college basketball games tournament was cancelled. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

(AP) – March Madness came to a screeching halt before a bracket could even be filled out.

The NCAA canceled its men's and women's basketball tournaments Thursday because of the spread of coronavirus, putting an abrupt end to the season less than a month before champions were to be crowned.

The unprecedented move comes a day after the NCAA announced the games that were scheduled to start next week would go on, but played in mostly empty arenas. That plan was scrapped as every major American sports league from the NBA to MLB put the brakes on its season due to concerns about the pandemic.

“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during the academic year given the ongoing decisions by other entities,” the NCAA said in statement.

The NCAA canceled championships in every spring sport, which include hockey, baseball and lacrosse.

The stunning end to the major college basketball season came about four hours after a frantic morning when conference tournaments around the country came to a sudden stop. Moments away from tipoff at some arenas, and minutes apart, each Power Five conference — the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences — canceled its remaining games.

At Madison Square Garden in New York, the Big East game between Creighton and St. John's did start, but at halftime the conference called off that game and all the rest. Turns out that was the last Division I basketball to be played this season.

“This has been the most extraordinary stretch of days I've ever had or ever seen in my 30-plus years of working in the sports business,” Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said.