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MAC bars spectators from men's and women's basketball tournaments

CLEVELAND – The Mid-American Conference will close its men's and women's conference tournaments to the general public.

The MAC announced the edict Tuesday evening, after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine earlier in the day issued a recommendation that would ban spectators from indoor sporting events in the state, in order to minimize the spread of novel coronavirus. The MAC also consulted with local government and public health and medical officials to make the decision.

The MAC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments continue Wednesday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland. Only credentialed institutional personnel, student-athlete family members, credentialed media, television and radio crews, and official team party members will be permitted to attend the tournaments.

The University at Buffalo women’s basketball team traveled Monday to Cleveland, immediately after its first-round win against Miami (Ohio). The Bulls are the No. 6 seed and play in a MAC quarterfinal Wednesday against No. 3 Kent State at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

“The safety of all is our greatest concern," Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a statement. "Since January, I have stated that any decision would follow the advice of state governmental officials and medical professionals. Following the feedback we received today we have taken this action which is in alignment with the recommendation of Governor DeWine.”

Speaking at a press conference in Columbus, in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Health, DeWine advised that spectators not attend any indoor sporting events, a recommendation that included events at the high school, college and professional levels. It was one of several recommendations DeWine made in order to minimize the spread of novel coronavirus.

The Ohio governor’s recommendation comes a day after the Ohio Department of Health confirmed that the state’s first three confirmed coronavirus cases were found in Cuyahoga County. Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the host of the MAC men's and women's tournaments, is in Cleveland, which is the Cuyahoga County seat and the second-largest city in Ohio, behind Columbus.

DeWine said his recommendation to restrict spectators at sporting events came after consultation with representatives from the professional sports teams in Ohio.

The NCAA is giving its conferences the authority to choose to host conference tournaments, or to cancel them. The Ivy League announced Tuesday that it canceled its postseason tournament, and the Big West announced Tuesday that it will also play its conference tournaments without spectators. Other conferences have yet to make any changes to their tournaments.

”The NCAA continues to assess how COVID-19 impacts the conduct of our tournaments and events,” the NCAA said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. “We are consulting with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel, who are leading experts in epidemiology and public health, and will make decisions in the coming days.”

Banning fans from indoor sporting events across the state of Ohio could also impact the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, currently on a long road trip, but the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets announced Tuesday that scheduled games Thursday and Saturday in Nationwide Arena would be played with fans present. Minor-league basketball and hockey teams in the state and the state’s high school athletic tournaments would also be affected. The Rochester Americans, the Buffalo Sabres' AHL affiliate, is scheduled to play in Cleveland against the Monsters on Sunday.

Two sites in Ohio will also host the NCAA Tournament: University of Dayton Arena will host the First Four March 17-18, and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland will host first- and second-round games March 20 and 22.

All tickets for the MAC tournaments will be refunded in the either as a credit towards next year’s tournament or a full refund.

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