It's time for sports to take a timeout.

The potential danger of the Covid-19 pandemic prompted the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to follow the lead of a slew of other professional and college organizations Thursday afternoon. The MAAC announced via Twitter that it was ‌pulling the plug on its men's and women's basketball tournaments, as well as the Esports competition, that were being held at Atlantic City's Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall this week.

In addition, the conference also canceled all sports at its 11 schools for the upcoming spring semester.

It's a tough blow to the conference, which was in the first year of a three-year deal to hold the basketball tournaments in Atlantic City, and had been promoting and hyping the event on its campuses for the last six months. The vendors and officials at Boardwalk Hall will take a hit. Local hoops fans, who have been wanting to be part of March Madness again after the Atlantic 10 bailed in 2012, will no doubt be disappointed.

Still, halting the tournaments was the right call.

Now it's incumbent upon the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association - the state's governing body for high school sports - to do the same with its boys and girls basketball tourneys.

Unfortunately, the organization is stubbornly refusing to err on the side of safety.

Instead of canceling the rest of the state tournament, the NJSIAA is instead moving its boys public state title games to Boardwalk Hall, according to The Press of Atlantic City, as if the arena will somehow be safer for high school basketball than the college version.

"When the NBA and NCAA cancel things, why are we playing high school basketball?" Camden coach Rick Brunson told Thursday. "I'm worried about the kids' health over a high school game."
Boardwalk Hall will be the third site for the boys public state finals. Rutgers University, which traditionally hosts the games, closed its Athletic Center amid campus-wide safety measures. Phillipsburg High School followed suit on Thursday afternoon.

They must be coating Boardwalk Hall with the world's biggest bottle of hand sanitizer.

The situation is just as ludricious in the non-public division. Wildwood Catholic will be playing at Roselle Catholic in the boys non-Public B state final while St. Augustine Prep will travel to Bergen Catholic Saturday.

"When you see what others around you have done, we need to take a harder look," Hermits coach Paul Rodio told Thursday. "I want to play; love to play. But my gut tells me that this is something much bigger than what we're doing. My gut tells me we probably shouldn't play."

The tournament is already falling apart.

At least two boys sectional champions, Hackettstown (North Jersey 2 Group II) and Manasquan (Central Jersey Group II) reportedly withdrew from their scheduled Thursday state semifinals against Ramsey and Camden, respectively, wisely deciding that the health and well-being of players, coaches and their families are more important than the continued pursuit of a state title.

"The superintendent up here is saying that things are starting to get chaotic and they don't want to risk it," Hackettstown coach Mike McDonagh told Thursday. "Basketball isn't the priority right now. They’re worried about the whole community."

In addition, South Brunswick was forced to forfeit Thursday's scheduled Group IV semifinal against Atlantic City due to safety concerns. Even if they had been able to play, however, they would have had difficulty finding a gym since Egg Harbor Township decided not to host the game.

NJSIAA Commissioner Larry White needs to step up and call off the basketball tournaments.

The organization lucked out last week by allowing fans to attend the state individual wrestling tournament at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall. It was a major gamble, considering the physical contact involved in the sport and the large crowds inside the stately arena.

Despite the growing risks, White and his staff have allowed the basketball tournaments to continue. Their weak, short-sighted response to the coronavirus Thursday was to ban spectators from attending the games and prohibit media from conducting face-to-face, postgame interviews.

Ocean City's girls basketball team played its Group III semifinal Thursday in an empty gym at Deptford High School.

Truth be told, I pooh-poohed the initial reactions to the coronavirus as unnecessary and over the top. As it has spread, however, prompting widespread cancellations, postponements and a sudden shortage of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, it's made me realize that the Covid-19 poses a significant threat to the public.

March Madness has taken on a whole new meaning.

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