The decision follows guidance from public health officials to limit large public gatherings on account of the coronavirus pandemic.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement that spectators will be limited to “essential staff and limited family.”
“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,” he added. “This decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of coaches, administrators, fans and, most importantly, our student-athletes.”
Emmert told the AP the organization is looking to move some games, including the Final Four, to smaller venues. The men’s Final Four is currently scheduled to be played at Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, and the women’s at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
The decision will carry significant financial repercussions: Attendance at the games has regularly exceeded 650,000 paying spectators per year since 2007.
The National College Players Association has been lobbying for a spectator-free tournament since late February, when it urged the NCAA to take greater precautions in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
The three-week men’s Division I tournament kicks off on Tuesday, March 17, and the women’s Division I tournament on March 20.