68 teams. 1 central location. This is what “March Madness” will look like in 2021.
The NCAA on Monday announced it will host the complete men’s postseason college basketball tournament in Indiana, with the majority of games being played in Indianapolis, including the Final Four.
The college athletic body is hoping to create a massive bubble for the event, saying it will work with a “local health provider” and the Merion County Health Department to ensure that players, coaches, administrators and staff are tested for COVID-19 and protected during the March and early April event. The NCAA also will work to provide masks across the state in what it calls a “Mask Madness” initiative.
“This is a historic moment for NCAA members and the state of Indiana,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We have worked tirelessly to reimagine a tournament structure that maintains our unique championship opportunity for college athletes.”
Unique it is.
Several universities – including Indiana, Ball State, Butler, Purdue and Indiana University-Purdue University – will be helping coordinate and facilitate college basketball’s grand showcase, which is usually held annually across the country at regional sites before culminating at its single location for the Final Four.
However, because of the pandemic, this year’s tournament will have a wholly different feel.
Practices will be held entirely at the Indiana Convention Center, which has physical connections to several Marriott hotels that will house and feed the players and coaches in a controlled environment on specific floors. Those teams will be shuttled to and from game facilities in secure transportation.
Games primarily will be hosted on college campuses in surrounding Lafayette, Bloomington and Indianapolis, along with the Indiana State Fairgrounds and the main championship site – Lucas Oil Stadium. The NCAA says only one game will be held at a time at the main stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, which seats approximately 70,000. It has not determined early-round game schedules, but its Selection Show is slated to take place on March 14. The Final Four will be April 3 and 5.
The NCAA said it is considering having fans at games, though it will be working with local public health officials and monitoring the pandemic to determine feasibility. It did say family members will be allowed to attend games.
“The 2021 version of March Madness will be one to remember, if for no other reason than the uniqueness of the event,” said NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt. “We are making the most of the circumstances the global pandemic has presented. This is going to be complicated and difficult; there’s no question about that.”
The NCAA and its committee can look to the success of another organization that managed to pull off a similar multi-team event on a smaller scale.
The NBA forged its 2020 Bubble with only 22 teams playing out their final eight games and then the playoffs in Orlando. Remarkably, there were no positive COVID cases reported across almost two months.
But triple those teams – with college players and staff having to travel across the country and play in the tournament – and that provides serious challenges for the NCAA. It also will put a burden on colleges and universities to not only ensure the safety of athletes and staff traveling to Indianapolis but also what protocols will be in place once they return to campus.
Last year, the NCAA had to cancel the tournament because of the pandemic and said it lost $375 million and that in turn impacted many institutions’ athletic budgets.