ALBANY -- As cancellations and adjustments due to heightened coronavirus and COVID-19 awareness continued to cascade through the news cycle on Wednesday, the biggest hit for Capital Region sports fans came later in the afternoon, via the NCAA.
NCAA president Mark Emmert announced that attendance at all upcoming championship events would be restricted to "essential staff and limited family attendance."
That put a double-whammy on the Times Union Center, which is preparing to host both the March Madness men's basketball tournament and the Division I men's hockey East Regional.
The arena is still scheduled to host four men's basketball first-round games on Thursday, March 19, and two second-round games on Saturday, March 21, followed by two men's hockey East Regional semifinal games on Saturday, March 28, and the regional final on Sunday, March 29.
But those games will be played in front of thousands of empty seats.
The March Madness games have been sold out since early January.
The TU Center, which seats 13,800 for the NCAA basketball, not counting suites, will refund all ticket sales.
Ticket holders will not be notified, but refunds will be automatically delivered to the credit card used for purchase. Refunds for the basketball and hockey tournament games should be received within 30 days. Questions should be directed to the TU Center or via email to [email protected].
Emmert's full statement reads:
"The NCAA continues to assess the impact of COVID-19 in consultation with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel. Based on their advice and my discussions with the NCAA Board of Governors, I have made the decision to conduct our upcoming championship events, including the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with only essential staff and limited family attendance. 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. This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes. We recognize the opportunity to compete in an NCAA national championship is an experience of a lifetime for the students and their families. Today, we will move forward and conduct championships consistent with the current information and will continue to monitor and make adjustments as needed."
This will be the third time the men's basketball tournament has been hosted at the venue, which was known as the Knickerbocker Arena in 1995 when it hosted first- and second-round games involving Old Dominion, Villanova, Tulsa, Illinois, Stanford, UNC Charlotte, Massachusetts and Saint Peter's.
The building, renamed the Pepsi Arena by the time it got the tournament again in 2003, was the site of the East Region semifinals and final, won by Syracuse on its way to a victory over Kansas for the national championship. That team featured Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara and Columbia High School graduate Craig Forth.
Oklahoma, Butler and Auburn also were in the East semis that year.
This will be the 12th appearance at the rink by NCAA men's hockey.
That includes two Frozen Fours, won by Lake Superior State in 1992 and by Boston College in 2001, when the arena drew a sold-out crowd of 13,252 for the semifinals and 13,288 for the championship game, a weekend total of 26,540.
The arena has hosted the East Region semis and final nine other times, most recently in 2016.