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USC coach Andy Enfield knows fan atmosphere in NCAA tournament will be missed

USC head coach Andy Enfield talks with guard Ethan Anderson in the second half at Galen Center in on Nov. 19, 2019.
USC head coach Andy Enfield talks with guard Ethan Anderson in the second half at Galen Center in on Nov. 19, 2019.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

When Andy Enfield thinks of March Madness, he pictures and hears the crowds.

Informed of the decision by the NCAA to stage its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in empty arenas, the USC coach thought back to his first time in the event.

Specifically, he thought back to the early rounds of the 2013 tournament, where he coached a Florida Gulf Coast team that upset Georgetown and San Diego State in Philadelphia to reach the Sweet 16.

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“When you’re the underdog in those regional sites, not only do you have your fan base cheering for you, but you have the other fan bases that are there,” Enfield said.

In Enfield’s view, there’s nothing like it in sports.

“You have different fan bases in these arenas and there’s so much energy, there’s so much passion,” he said. “You have bands from all the universities, the spirit squads, so it’s very hard to find that type of energy and excitement at other sporting events. Usually, when you go to a sporting event, you have a big home crowd and a few visitors, but the NCAA tournament is just completely different.

“The fans will have to, hopefully, be sitting at home, quarantined, having as much passion and energy screaming at the television. But, unfortunately, they won’t be doing it in person.”

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Enfield believes crowds influence performance.

“I think that’s why there’s such a huge home-court advantage in all sports,” he said. “We were 15-2 at home this year and we were 8-1 in the league. I think if you look around the country, the home court means a huge advantage. Now, an NCAA tournament neutral site with no fans? You take a lot of that out, probably all of it out. There won’t be any advantage for any team. So the schools that usually draw a lot of fans ... it will be a big difference.”

The atmosphere in the upcoming NCAA tournament, Enfield said his typically understated way, “will be very unique.”

The only comparable environment Enfield could think of were the closed-door preseason scrimmages. USC hosted Santa Clara this year and San Diego State last year.

“It will be a similar feeling with a lot more at stake,” Enfield said. “But it is a very unique experience when you’re in a big arena and there’s no one in the seats. It feels totally different.”

Asked if he questioned whether fans should be allowed to attend Pac-12 tournament games this week, Enfield replied diplomatically, “I don’t have any comment on that. I just don’t know enough about the situation.”

As the NCAA, its member universities, and the conferences they represent contemplate how to proceed with college athletics amid the threat of coronavirus, USC will continue for the foreseeable future without fans present.

Enfield was hopeful the NCAA tournament will still be staged. His team is on the tournament bubble and starts play in the Pac-12 tournament Thursday as the No. 4 seed.

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“I’m hopeful that they can still have the NCAA tournament without the fans,” Enfield said. “The players around the country want to compete for a national championship. At the same time, if the experts say that there has to be quarantine for the entire country, I’m OK with that, too.”

USC traveled to Las Vegas on Tuesday on a chartered flight. The switch from the originally scheduled commercial flight was mostly weather-related, Enfield said.

“Apparently, it was because of the delays out of LAX to Vegas with the weather,” Enfield said. “Our administration thought it was best to just to take a charter flight. We didn’t have to go into the airport and sit around and put anybody at risk.”


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