Get ready to watch more and more games played in front of empty arenas as officials — including Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney — urge people to avoid large gatherings due to the spread of the coronavirus and access to games is curtailed.
The NCAA announced Wednesday that this year’s Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be played behind closed doors, with “only essential staff and limited family” in attendance.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement that the decision was made based on advice from public health officials and the NCAA’s advisory pane on the coronavirus.
"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 said. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”
The move came after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced a statewide ban on large events, which was to impact the First Four in Dayton and some first- and second-round games in Cleveland. Previously, the Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments over fears of the virus, while at least two conferences — the Mid-American Conference and the Big West Conference — said they would hold their men’s and women’s tournaments in empty arenas.
Longtime CBS announcer Jim Nantz, who has been calling NCAA Tournament games since 1986, said he’s never been in the position where he’s had to call any game — basketball or otherwise — without fans in the stands. The closest he’s come is calling practice games inside the network’s production studio with no crowd, most recently during the summer of 2017 alongside then-broadcast rookie Tony Romo.
“The hardest thing to get your mind around is calling a game with so much at stake with no crowd, no excitement in the building," Nantz said, admitting it would be difficult to stay focused and energetic over plays without the "energy wave that’s constantly in the building with these NCAA games.”
“You can’t see it, but you can feel it. And you absolutely modulate your voice against it, trying to cut through,” Nantz added. “If you’ve got an empty building, you’re going to hear lots of squeaking sneakers, you’re going to hear coaches calling out plays and defenses. That’s going to come out loud and clear. There’s not going be a whole lot else as far as atmosphere in the arena.”
Whether there’s a crowd or not, Nantz will call this year’s NCAA Final Four semifinals and the national championship game for the sixth-straight season alongside Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, and reporter Tracy Wolfson.
“We’ll adapt with whatever the NCAA does with the tournament," Nantz said.
Lou Nolan, the longtime public address announcer for the Flyers, was back at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night after missing five games while battling a viral infection. Despite the Flyers scoring zero goals during their 2-0 loss to the Bruins, Nolan’s return was a welcome sound for the 19,000 fans who got to hear the longtime announcer belt out, “And the Flyers are going on the PEEEEEEEEEEEECO power play!”
The 74-year-old has been a familiar voice to Flyers fans for nearly four decades, starting as a public relations assistant in 1967 before becoming the public address announcer in 1972. Keith Jones, the voice of Parx Racing in Bensalem (not the NBC Sports Philadelphia announcer) filled in for Nolan while he recuperated.
The Flyers are scheduled to play at home again Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild. Kenney suggested people avoid gatherings of more than 5,000 people due to the coronavirus outbreak, but so far the Wells Fargo Center isn’t putting any restrictions on fans looking to attend games.
“Everyone who was inside the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night chose to walk through that door and accept that risk,” wrote my colleague Mike Sielski. “Maybe everyone recognized that the game might be the last opportunity to feel normal for a while, and everyone took it.”
• Amid coronavirus concerns, Phillies players and reporters were kept at a healthy distance outside their Clearwater clubhouse on Tuesday.
Prior to the game, Bryce Harper showed some empathy towards the ink-stained wretches forced to stand in a tunnel behind the Phillies’ clubhouse about 8 feet from the Phillies slugger.
“I’d give Jim a hug right now,” Harper said, referring to longtime NBC Sports Philadelphia reporter Jim Salisbury.
“You guys have a job to do,” Harper added. “We need to talk to you, we need to. As of right now, I guess it’s going to be out here, but hopefully in the near future you guys are back in there with us and we’re just going on with our daily routine of talking to you guys.”
• In the leastsurprising news of the day, longtime Sunday Night Football announcer Al Michaels will remain at NBC after the network decline to discuss a possible announcer trade with ESPN (ABC traded away Michaels to NBC back in 2005 for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit... yes, you read that correctly).
According to multiple reports, ESPN is now focused on offering a dump truck full of cash to Peyton Manning, in hopes of convincing the reluctant retiree to become the next Tony Romo. It would be a move designed as much to eliminate social media criticism surrounding ESPN’s NFL broadcasts as it is to help parent company Disney land a spot in the Super Bowl rotation.
As the rumor mill churns with names of other options, current Monday Night Football broadcasters Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland have not yet been told they’re out, according to the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand. Awkward.
• A preview of Philly sports talk radio content today from Eytan Shander, the former 97.5 The Fanatic talker who hosts shows on 97.3 ESPN and The Gambler 102.5.