INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on Thursday because of the spread of coronavirus, putting an abrupt end to the season less than a month before champions were to be crowned.

The decision comes a day after the NCAA announced the games that were scheduled to start next week would go on, but played in mostly empty arenas. That plan was scrapped as every major American sports league from the NBA to MLB put the brakes on its season due to concerns about the pandemic.

The NCAA canceled all of its spring championships in every sport, which include hockey, baseball and lacrosse.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been played every year since 1939 when Oregon won the championship in Evanston, Illinois. It has grown through the years, both in size and stature. The three-week tournament generates almost a billion dollars in revenue each year for the NCAA and its hundreds of member universities and colleges. 

It is now one of the biggest events in American sports, a basketball marathon of buzzer-beaters, upset and thrills involving 68 teams. The field for the men’s tournament was scheduled to be announced Sunday. The 64-team women’s field was to be revealed Monday.

Games would have started on the men’s side on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, then spreading out to eight sites from coast-to-coast from next Thursday through Sunday.

Instead, March Madness had taken on a different meaning as sports have virtually shutdown.

The biggest conferences in college sports all canceled their basketball tournaments earlier on Thursday. 

Within minutes of each other, the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference announced that the remainder of their tournaments would not be played.

All were preparing to play games in large arenas across the country, but with few people in the buildings. 

All over the country from Boise, Idaho, to Birmingham, Alabama, one of the busiest college basketball days of the year — with teams fighting for championship trophies and automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament — was being shut down.

Texas and Texas Tech were going through pregame warmups and the handful of close family and friends were already in the stands Thursday when the teams were pulled off the court 40 minutes before tip-off.

Following the NCAA’s lead Wednesday, most college conferences announced that their basketball tournaments would be conducted with limited fan access the rest of the week. By Thursday, after the NBA suspended its season Wednesday night, they decided not to play at all.

Some took a little longer than others to pull the plug. The Big East started its second-round game between top-seeded Creighton and St. John’s at Madison Square Garden in New York and not until halftime was the tournament called off.

As the Bluejays and Red Storm were playing, a few subway stops away at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Atlantic-10 was holding a news conference to call off its tournament.

Among the other conferences that canceled tournaments were: the American Athletic Conference in Fort Worth, Texas; Conference USA in Frisco, Texas; the Sun Belt in New Orleans; the Western Athletic Conference in Anaheim, California; the Big Sky in Boise; the Southwestern Athletic Conference in Birmingham; and the Mid-American Conference in Cleveland at an arena that is home to the NBA’s Cavaliers and is scheduled to be the site of NCAA men’s tournament games next week. 

The semifinals and finals of the Sun Belt men’s and women’s tournaments were set to be played Saturday at the Smoothie King Center, where the NBA’s Pelicans play and the site of this year’s women’s Final Four.

The SEC also announced the suspension of regular-season competition for teams in all sports on campuses as well as SEC championship events until March 30.

Rick Fulkerson of Rockport, Indiana, the uncle of Tennessee junior forward John Fulkerson, planned to attend the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

“It’s different and serious,” Rick Fulkerson said. “It’s common sense, probably.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus.

The Big Ten was playing in Indianapolis; the SEC in Nashville, Tennessee; the Big 12 in Kansas City, Missouri; the Pac-12 in Las Vegas; and the ACC in Greensboro, North Carolina, at another arena set to host NCAA men’s first- and second-round games next week.

At the ACC, Florida State and Clemson were on the floor warming up for the first game of a scheduled quadrupleheader when the announcement came down that no games would be played.

Top seed Florida State was then awarded the league’s championship trophy in an odd ceremony with Commissioner John Swofford in a mostly empty arena.

This was a very different kind of March Madness.

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