The NCAA on Monday officially announced that March Madness will take place in various sites in the surrounding area of Indianapolis.
The decision comes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to alter the college basketball schedule on a daily basis and force teams into pausing activities for two weeks.
So instead of the typical tournament format that has eight subregional locations, four regional locations and a Final Four location, the 2021 NCAA Tournament will take place in or near the Indianapolis area at six different venues.
These locations will play host to 2021 March Madness:
- Lucas Oil Stadium (two courts); Indianapolis, Ind.
- Bankers Life Fieldhouse; Indianapolis, Ind.
- Hinkle Fieldhouse; Indianapolis, Ind.
- Indiana Farmers Coliseum; Indianapolis, Ind.
- Mackey Arena; West Lafayette, Ind.
- Assembly Hall; Bloomington, Ind.
“This is a historic moment for NCAA members and the state of Indiana,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “We have worked tirelessly to reimagine a tournament structure that maintains our unique championship opportunity for college athletes. The reality of today’s announcement was possible thanks to the tremendous leadership of our membership, local authorities and staff.”
What will the tournament schedule look like?
The 2021 NCAA Tournament is already going to be unlike any we’ve seen before, and there are several questions that should be asked about the logistics of the event. First, we should discuss the schedule in March, where some teams wrap up their conference tournaments on Saturday or Sunday and then have to turn around and play in March Madness as early as Tuesday in the First Four.
This turnaround seems almost impossible this season given the status of COVID-19. There is probably an expectation that some conferences will opt out of postseason tournaments and award the regular-season champ the league’s automatic bid. This would yield more time to test and isolate before the start of March Madness. But for those that don’t, there has to be an assumption that the tournament would have to start later than its usual schedule to allow teams to isolate and ensure COVID-19 negatives before participating in Indianapolis.
What happens if a team has COVID-19 positives?
On the same topic, what happens if a team selected by the tournament committee has COVID-19 positives? Unlike the regular season where games can be rescheduled and postponed, doing the same while attempting to conduct a 68-team tournament would beg serious questions about the tournament’s competitive legitimacy, TV schedules and several other factors.
The selection committee might have to designate alternate teams for the tournament in case a team is unable to participate due to COVID-19. But this would also beg further questions about the logistics of the bracket because an alternate team would presumably have to be of similar strength as the original team. This, again, shows why there should be a large window between the bracket release and start of the tournament to ensure every team is able to participate.
Will fans be allowed into games?
Though it’s hard to prove through statistics, we all know that fans can have a significant impact on March Madness results. For instance, if rivals like Duke and North Carolina are playing in the same subregional location and an underdog team is putting up a fight, the arena can morph into an away game of sorts for the higher-seeded team.
This obviously won’t be the case this season, but we also don’t know yet if fans will be allowed into games. Some programs have allowed limited crowds into home games this season while other programs have completely banned fans from attending games. With March Madness ticket revenue making up a hefty sum of the NCAA’s bottom line this time of year, it should be a safe assumption that a select number of fans will be allowed into games barring restrictions from the state and county.
Does any team have an advantage by the single-site format?
One of the underlying topics every year during bracket previews is how teams perform when playing away from home. Home winning percentage is down this season across Division-I, though it’s probably a safe guess that most teams are still more comfortable playing at or near home.
A single-site format could provide the most equal tournament we’ve ever seen. Teams won’t need to shuffle from coast to coast to play first round games and arena crowds will have little or no impact. The 2021 champion will have proved that it is truly the best team in the land and overcame several unique obstacles towards claiming the trophy.