How will having no fans affect the NCAA Tournament?

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The NCAA announced today that only team personnel and a small amount of family members will be allowed to watch the NCAA tournament games. A reaction to the growing spread of COVID-19. It’s an unprecedented move and could have a dramatic effect on the result of the tournament. I think there are two major consequences:

  1. Less Upsets – I’ve been to a number of NCAA tournament games. On Thursday and Friday, four games take place in the same arena. In any of those games, once the lower seed has a lead, the entire crowd starts to pull for the upset. The longer they stay in the game, the more it starts to sound and feel like a home game for that team – often times a school most of the fans haven’t even heard of before that very day. That starts to rattle the higher seed and a lot of times, result in an early upset. Without the fans, a team could still catch fire but there won’t be the same psychological burden on their opponents of a neutral crowd turning against them. So, I expect less upsets in the early rounds.
  2. Less Scoring – Since the Final Four started being played in large football stadiums, the Saturday games start off pretty poorly because neither team is used to shooting with such a huge backdrop of nothing. The NCAA is actually talking about moving the Final Four to a smaller venue in Atlanta due to the fact there will be no fans. But even in the normal arenas, shooting against a backdrop of nothing in a high stakes game is going to result in lower shooting percentages. So, if you’re the gambling type, I would keep an eye on the total points scored numbers (Over/Under). I think it Under will be the popular bet, especially in the first games of the weekends when everyone is getting used to the empty arena.

Every NCAA Tournament is its own unique story but this one has become one of a kind before a single game is even played. And it will likely always be remembered for having no fans standing rather than whoever ends up as the last team standing.

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