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WarnerMedia, CBS Sports say NCAA tournament coverage plans unchanged amid virus crisis

WarnerMedia and CBS Sports, which co-produces coverage of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, said their production plans for the marquee US sports event remain on despite the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, and will continue even if the NCAA orders games played in empty arenas.

Decisions about the tournament itself, set to begin March 17, will be driven by the NCAA, the networks said, and as of now, the event remains as scheduled. But even if the governing body ultimately orders operational changes, the networks will still look maintain their usual standard of coverage.

If there were no fans in attendance, “the production would remain the same, although it would be a significantly different atmosphere,” said Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports. “We wouldn’t be focusing as we always do on the excitement of the fans. But the overall production of the basketball games will be produced as if there were fans in the stands.”

Added Jeff Zucker, WarnerMedia chairman, “There has been no talk of scaling down crews. We are going to cover the entire event as we always have. And although none of the crew has indicated this at this point, we would allow any member of the crew who does not feel comfortable in the situation not to participate.”

The networks’ comments arrived via a media conference call that itself was a rescheduled event from a traditional pre-tournament media event in New York. That customary event was converted into the call because of coronavirus.

While the tournament is still on as of now, there have been other impacts in and around college sports because of coronavirus. The Ivy League has canceled its conference tournament and will send their regular-season champions directly to the national tournaments. Santa Clara County in California, which will play host to part of the upcoming NCAA women’s basketball tournament, is banning all crowds in excess of a thousand people. And Ohio governor Mike DeWine is recommending indoor sports in the state be played without fans, which would potentially impact the “First Four” portion of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Dayton.

Amid all of this, Zucker and McManus said they hope the customary fan frenzy around March Madness will still occur and become a balm for a nervous public badly shaken by the global health crisis.

“The tournament comes at an important time for the country,” Zucker said. “And not withstanding the incredible and serious nature of what is going on with the virus, we think the tournament can help be an outlet of emotional and psychological relief for most of the country. So we are looking forward to that.”

The networks’ coverage of the tournament will begin March 15, otherwise known as Selection Sunday, when the team selections and brackets for the event will be revealed.