Sports

Ivy League tournament cancellation seen as a harbinger of coronavirus’s effects

Bloomberg
The Ivy League has canceled this weekend's men's and women's basketball tournaments at Harvard University out of concerns over the threat of the coronavirus.

They billed it as Ivy Madness. But something crazier and imminently dangerous — the escalating threat of the coronavirus — spurred the Ivy League Tuesday to cancel its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments this weekend at Harvard University.

The decision came just hours before Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency as the virus spreads in Massachusetts. Baker's executive order could impact large public gatherings, including athletic events, in the near future as the disease exacts a toll on the local economy and life in every sector of society.

In the sports world, the Ivy League announcement was seen as a harbinger of cancellations to come. While the Boston Athletic Association weighed whether to call off its historic Marathon for the first time since World War I and TD Garden awaited guidance from the government and Centers for Disease Control, a number of other athletic contests already were canceled, and others were in jeopardy.

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"I can’t say I’m shocked’’ by the state of emergency, Robin Harris, the Ivy League’s executive director, said in an interview. "`This whole situation is unprecedented.’’

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Presidents of the Ivy League schools unanimously decided to cancel the basketball tournaments based on recommendations from public health authorities and medical professionals, according to Harris.

She said they made the ``very difficult’’ decision after weighing numerous options, including playing the tournament games before a limited number of spectators or no spectators at all.

Harris said the Ivy presidents ultimately decided the restrictions they had placed on large gatherings on their campuses should extend to athletic events.

The tournaments were scheduled to be played at Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion. The women’s title game was to air Saturday on ESPN News, with the men’s final to be broadcast Sunday on ESPN2. The league said all tickets will be fully refunded.

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The cancellation killed any chance of the Harvard men’s basketball team, ranked second in the league, overtaking top-seeded Yale in the tournament for an automatic invitation to the NCAA national tournament. The Crimson now have no realistic chance of gaining a berth in the March Madness tournament.

The Ivy League said it also had immediately implemented ``highly restrictive, in-venue spectator limitations for all other upcoming campus athletic events’’ and canceled all out-of-season practices and competitions.

At Harvard, the coronavirus also caused the school to cancel road trips over the next 12 days for the men's and women's crew teams, men’s and women’s golf teams, the softball team, the men’s and women’s tennis teams, the men’s volleyball team, and the women’s water polo team.

Several Harvard home games this week remain scheduled, including women’s lacrosse Wednesday and Saturday, women’s tennis Friday, and men’s lacrosse Saturday.

Meanwhile, in another sign of the crisis, the Harvard men’s hockey team is scheduled to play Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in a best-of-three quarterfinal round of the ECAC tournament this weekend in Troy, N.Y., in an arena without spectators. The decision to bar fans followed the confirmation of two coronavirus cases in New York’s capital region.

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As of Tuesday, Massachusetts public health officials said there were 92 positive or presumptive cases of the highly contagious virus in the state, up from 41 the previous day.

Notable among the sports events in Greater Boston whose status remained in question Tuesday was the final four of the Hockey East men’s championship tournament at TD Garden March 20 and 21. While the Garden awaited further guidance, Hockey East was preparing for the possibility of playing the games in empty arenas or neutral sites if necessary, according to associate director Brian Smith. He spoke before Baker’s declaration.

Smith said Hockey East, like the Garden, is closely monitoring developments and hoping to play the games as scheduled, without public health concerns. But, he said, the organization also ``is actively planning contingencies in case something does come up that will affect the way we can play the games.’’

The tournament's quarterfinal round is scheduled to begin Friday, with Providence playing at Boston College, Northeastern at UMass Amherst, Connecticut at Maine, and Boston University at UMass Lowell.

BC athletics spokesman Jason Baum said before Baker declared a state of emergency, ``There has been no change to any events at Boston College at the current time.’’

UMass Amherst's sports schedule also remained unchanged, according to athletics spokesman Matt Houde.

At UMass Lowell, spokesman Pete Souris, speaking after Baker’s declaration, said the Hockey East quarterfinal there remained on the schedule, while the school awaited further information.

At BU, the men’s basketball team was on track to play Colgate on the road Wednesday in the Patriot League title game. On Thursday, the BU women’s team was scheduled to host Lehigh in the Patriot League semifinals at Case Gymnasium.

BU athletics spokesman Brian Kelley said before Baker’s announcement that much remains in question about the impact of the coronavirus on future events. He indicated the athletic department would be guided by the decisions of university leaders.

BU’s spring break ends Monday. Across the river, where Harvard students are scheduled to return from their break March 23, the school already has announced plans to move all academic courses online. Leaders at BU, BC, and Northeastern have urged their faculties to prepare to launch online education as well, though no official decisions had been made, the Globe reported Monday.

``Obviously, we can’t guarantee anything,’’ BU’s Kelly said.

Massachusetts state high school tournaments also are nearing their conclusion, with boys and girls basketball semifinals and championships scheduled this week, as well as the boys’ hockey final. All games remained scheduled Tuesday, but Tara Bennett, communications director of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the situation is ``very fluid.’’