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How U.S. Sports Leagues Are Responding To The Coronavirus Outbreak

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There will be no March Madness this year. This afternoon, the NCAA canceled its marquee college basketball tournaments for both men and women. The news came after a dizzying day of suspensions and cancellations in the world of sports, from the college ranks to the pros. And joining me now to talk about all of this is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So this latest big news, at least in the world of sports, is the cancellation of March Madness. Now, there will be no office pools, no face paint. This is massive. What can you tell us about this decision?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. It was the last of the big announcements today - the holdout, if you will. But the NCAA finally decided these wildly popular tournaments and the many millions of dollars they generate - they won't happen. The decision, according to an NCAA statement, was based on three factors - the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, wanting to ensure the events don't contribute to spread of the pandemic - and the men's tournament alone was scheduled at 14 different sites around the country.

CHANG: Wow.

GOLDMAN: And then a third factor - the impracticality of hosting the events at any time during this academic year, given ongoing decisions by other entities.

CHANG: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: I should add, Ailsa, the NCAA is canceling all remaining winter and spring championships, not just hoops.

CHANG: So this was just, like, one of several major announcements. Can you just tell us about all the other stuff that has happened on your beat in the last 24 hours?

GOLDMAN: Sure - fast-moving. Major League Baseball is canceling spring training games and delaying the start of the regular season by at least two weeks. The National Hockey League announced it's pausing its season - using the gentler word pausing rather than suspending. But it's shutting down games indefinitely. And another pro sports league taking action - Major League Soccer is suspending its season for 30 days.

CHANG: And the way I understand it, the NBA seemed to have started this whole chain reaction by suspending its season last night after a player on the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19. Any updates today from pro basketball?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's right. Yes. Reports say NBA owners want Commissioner Adam Silver to reevaluate the season's suspension in a month. So it appears there won't be pro basketball at least for that long. Also today, we heard from the player who's being called patient zero in the NBA, Utah Jazz all-star center Rudy Gobert. He tested positive for COVID-19, and that prompted the NBA to suspend the season.

Now, a little background before we hear about his comments - a teammate of Gobert's, Donovan Mitchell, confirmed today he tested positive, too. He released a statement that said, in part, we all are - we are all learning more about the seriousness of this situation, and hopefully people can continue to educate themselves and realize that they need to behave responsibly, both for their own health and for the well-being of those around them.

Now, Ailsa, that's an interesting statement because reports from NBA insiders say Utah players said Gobert was careless in the locker room, touching other players and their belongings. And of course, there's that viral video of Gobert at the beginning of the week before his test came back positive, touching reporters' microphones after a press conference, making light of coronavirus concerns.

CHANG: Yeah. I mean, has Gobert said anything about all of that today?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. He apologized to those he may have endangered and said he was careless and makes no excuse. And he wants people to take the virus seriously.

CHANG: So a world without sports, Tom - this is looking pretty bleak.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Imagine that. You know, but I think there's widespread understanding that all these measures are necessary to help contain the outbreak. But you know, there's deep disappointment, too. Sports are traditionally a great diversion. Now when we seem to need them most, live...

CHANG: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...Sporting events won't be there. And sports fans in particular are hoping all these measures really do help and that their beloved diversions return soon.

CHANG: That is NPR's Tom Goldman. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.