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In this March 18, 2015, file photo, the NCAA logo is displayed at center court at The Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

NCAA Tournament games will be closed to the general public, as will SEC Tournament games starting today, amid growing concern over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus

NCAA President Mark Emmert announced Wednesday afternoon that both the men’s basketball and women’s basketball championship tournaments will be conducted “with only essential staff and limited family attendance.”

The SEC announced a similar decision later Wednesday. Play opened at its tournament as scheduled on Wednesday night with fans in attendance in Nashville, Tenn., but the conference decided to close doors moving forward after similar conference tournaments came to the same conclusion. Meanwhile, Auburn’s men’s basketball team traveled to Nashville on Wednesday. Auburn is scheduled to open its run in the tournament in the quarterfinals on Friday.

The NCAA’s COVID-19 Advisory Panel released a separate statement Wednesday recommending against sporting events being open to the public across the country.

The NCAA Tournament is set to begin in earnest on March 20 after its ‘First Four’ games are played March 17-18.

The move is a stunner that comes after days of escalating concern. The MAC Tournament opened play on Wednesday in a mostly empty arena in Cleveland. The Ohio governor earlier called for sporting events in the state to bar fans, later joined by the governor of the state of Washington calling for a similar ban on crowded events in certain areas of his state. The Ivy League has outright cancelled all spring sports.

The men’s basketball NCAA Tournament scheduled first-round games in both Ohio and Washington. The First Four games are scheduled to be played in Dayton, Ohio.

“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,” Emmert’s statement read.

“This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”

He closed his statement by saying the NCAA will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed.

Italy’s pro soccer league has played games in empty stadiums this past week per declaration from the Italian government amid the spread of the disease there.

Auburn’s team departed for Nashville in the middle of the afternoon on Wednesday. Head coach Bruce Pearl spoke with the media before traveling and before the NCAA’s announcement, but did say he would defer to the NCAA and the SEC when it comes to handling the concerns.

“I am going to trust our leadership to do the right things and be supportive of whatever decisions that they make,” Pearl said. “The washing of our hands — doing the normal things we should be doing to keep us healthy and away from the flu — is the best course of action.

“We just hope in the next month or so this thing doesn’t get much worse before it gets better.”

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