(CBS Local/CBSNewYork)- The coronavirus outbreak has been dominating headlines in the United States for the past month, but it’s impact is just beginning to be felt in the sports world. On Monday, four of the American professional sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS) announced they would be temporarily limiting access to locker rooms, not allowing in media members.
Several sports events have been played in empty venues. The Ivy League just announced the cancellation of their men’s and women’s basketball tournaments out of an abundance of caution. In the midst of all of this, the NCAA’s biggest events, the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are set to go on as scheduled, though the governing body is monitoring the situation.
That makes for a tough spot for broadcast partners CBS Sports and Turner Sports as the networks prepare for the 10th year of their partnership broadcasting the tournament. On a media conference call Tuesday, WarnerMedia News and Sports chairman Jeff Zucker and CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus discussed the preparations for the tournament, saying that not much has changed in the way they expect to cover the tournament.
“As of now, everything is preceding as scheduled,” said Zucker. “We’re in close contact with them, but this is their (the NCAA’s) decision to make, to the degree that any decision needs to be made.”
There has been some speculation that games at various sites may need to be played without fans in attendance, something that McManus says wouldn’t change the company’s production that much overall outside of the lack of crowd shots.
“The production would remain the same. Obviously, it would be a different atmosphere, and we wouldn’t be focusing as we usually do, on the excitement of the fans,” said McManus. “But, the overall production of the basketball game is still going to be produced as it would be if there were fans in the stands.”
Both men were emphatic that there hasn’t been any contemplation of scaling down production crews in response to the current situation, though both did say that accommodations would be made for any member of the production team that would feel uncomfortable going into the field in the current environment.
“There has been no contemplation of that. We’re still going to cover all of the games and the entire event as we always have. There has been no contemplation of scaling down. As is the case in the way we run our businesses, anyone who is uncomfortable and doesn’t want to be part of that coverage, though no one has said that to us to be clear, we would obviously accommodate that.”
Zucker and McManus both expressed some hope that the tournament could be a welcome respite for people throughout the country who are currently concerned with the outbreak.
“I think this tournament comes at an important time in the country,” said Zucker. “And I think that, notwithstanding the incredibly serious nature of what’s going on with the virus, I think that the tournament can hopefully be an outlet of emotional and psychological relief for much of the country.”
Lead announcer Jim Nantz echoed those sentiments later in the call. He then said that if the decision is made by the NCAA to play the games without fans in attendance, it wouldn’t affect the broadcast preparation as much as it might just make it harder for the broadcast crew to keep their energy up without riding that wave of emotion constantly in the air from the fans.
“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. What would that feel like?” pondered Nantz.
That said, the veteran broadcaster is certain that the crew would be able to figure it out, there may just be some more squeaking of sneakers and coaches yelling on the broadcast than people at home are used to.
With all of that in mind, there are some new features set for this year’s broadcast production of the tournament. McManus noted that for the first time ever, there will be coaches interviews on the floor at the under-12 and under-8 media timeouts. In addition, former Marquette star and NBA veteran Dwyane Wade is expected to join the coverage of the Final Four in Atlanta with studio host Adam Zucker being live on-site in Atlanta as well. Adam Lefkoe of Turner Sports will provide all of the in-game updates throughout the tournament.
Though there is still much to be determined surrounding the attendance of games and how the NCAA will handle that question, both CBS Sports and Turner are gearing up for another year of March Madness action. It begins with the First Four set for truTV on Tuesday March 17th and Wednesday March 18th.