The chilling effect of the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus, now has college athletics officials discussing how to best address the coming March Madness games.

On Saturday, Feb. 29, the National College Players Association (NCPA) – a player advocacy group with over 20,000 members from more than 150 Division I campuses – stated that, in regard to March’s national basketball tournament, “there should be a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present.”

The timing of the virus and the potential reaction to that threat simply could not come at a worse time for the city of Greensboro – which has an amazing trifecta of college events planned for March. That’s at a time when the coronavirus outbreak is growing and paralyzing the places that it hits hard. This month, Greensboro is set to host a major basketball tournament for three straight weeks: the ACC Women’s Tournament, followed by the ACC Men’s Tournament, followed by the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

For over a year, forces all across Greensboro, Guilford County and the region have been planning to make the coming time something very special – a three-week period that will showcase Greensboro like never before.

Even though life remains normal in North Carolina to a large extent, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling this a “rapidly evolving situation,” and many people are already shying away from being in large crowds – especially those that have people flying in from all parts of the country.

In the countries where the virus has become widespread, sports events, if held at all, are being held in empty stadiums and coliseums with only the athletes, officials, television crews and other essential personnel present.

It’s almost unfathomable to imagine the ACC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament games being held in a completely empty Greensboro Coliseum, since so much of the magic comes from the color, pageantry, the fans, the tailgating, the music, seeing old friends, the business networking and everything else that surrounds the games themselves.

So far, there have been no cases of the virus in North Carolina or in the surrounding states, but the outbreak map is now changing hourly and, in recent days, cases have been popping up in states far removed from the West Coast.

The 2020 Women’s ACC Basketball Tournament is set to start on Wednesday, March 4 at the Greensboro Coliseum and that’s going on as planned. However, the 2020 Men’s ACC Basketball Tournament and the NCAA regionals are later.

The NCPA, which is calling for the discussion of fan-less games, has served since 2001 as a voice for college athletes across the nation. The group’s positions has been influential over the years and the NCPA and it’s spokespeople and stances have been featured on CBS 60 Minutes, ESPN, CNN, ABC News, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal.

On Saturday, Feb. 29, the NCPA released the following statement: “In regard to the NCAA’s March Madness Tournament and other athletic events, there should be a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present.”

The group also had a list of other precautions.

“In the wake of the emerging coronavirus pandemic,” the Sunday press release stated, “the NCAA and its colleges should take precautions to protect college athletes. They should also make public which actions will be taken and when. Precautions should include cancelling all auxiliary events that put players in contact with crowds such as meet and greets and press events. Athletic programs should also take every possible measure to sanitize buses and airplanes used to transport players.”

The press release also notes that Google has cancelled a summit in California and that Amazon is encouraging its employees to avoid all nonessential travel due to the virus.

It adds, “The NCAA and its colleges must act now, there is no time to waste.”

The NCAA tournament each year, between ticket sales, television rights, marketing rights and other sources brings in nearly a billion dollars in revenue.

Before the call for the discussion by the NCPA, the NCAA stated in a memo to college officials and others that it continues to prepare for March Madness and that NCAA officials are “keenly aware” of the coronavirus and will continue to monitor the situation in coordination with state and local health authorities and the CDC.