NCAA to host Men’s Basketball Tournament in one city for 2021

By Gillian R. Brassil

The NCAA will consolidate its usually sprawling men’s college basketball tournament to a single city in 2021 instead of holding the games at 13 sites across the United States, in hopes of limiting travel during the pandemic.

The NCAA announced earlier this week that it was in preliminary talks with local and state government officials to have Indianapolis host the 68-team Division I men’s tournament.

The men’s basketball committee that oversees the tournament determined that a single location would be more conducive to the “safety and well-being” of the event.

“We understand the disappointment 13 communities will feel to miss out on being part of March Madness next year,” said Kentucky’s athletic director, Mitch Barnhart, who leads the committee. “With the University of Kentucky slated to host first- and second-round games in March, this is something that directly impacts our school and community, so we certainly share in their regret.”

The tournament is usually spread throughout the country in March and April. Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., was scheduled to host three games in the middle of the tournament next year.

The 2020 men’s and women’s tournaments were among the first major sporting events in the United States to be canceled as the coronavirus spread in March.

The committee said that while limiting travel, it was looking for a location that could offer enough courts as well as housing and medical resources. The Final Four was already scheduled for April 3 and 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the NCAA has its headquarters.

“The committee and staff have thoughtfully monitored the pandemic to develop potential contingency plans,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said Monday. “The Board of Governors’ and my top priorities are to protect the health and well-being of college athletes while also maintaining their opportunity to compete at the highest level.”

The committee is not conversing with representatives from other cities, said David Worlock, the NCAA’s press officer, but he noted that could change. Officials are not planning to hold the entire tournament to a single, highly restricted site.

“We can’t operate in a bubble like, for example, the NBA did this year with its postseason, though we will have similar protocols in place to protect the health and safety of those involved,” he said.

Discussions concerning the Division I women’s basketball tournament are still ongoing, said Lynn Holzman, the NCAA’s vice president for women’s basketball. That tournament generally uses more sites than the men’s tournament, with 16 teams hosting first- and second-round games that feed into regional sites and eventually the Final Four, which is scheduled for April 2 to 4 in San Antonio.

“The committee intends to maintain a field of 64 teams, and a variety of contingency plans — including reducing the number of first- and second-round sites or bringing the entire tournament to one location — are being considered,” Holzman said.

Indiana’s health department has reported an 11.7 percent positivity rate for virus tests over the last seven days. Daily cases have doubled in the state in the last 14 days compared with the daily average for the prior two weeks, and the state has had 87.6 cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.

In Marion County, where Indianapolis is, the positivity rate surpassed 10 percent last week, prompting the mayor and local health officials to institute more stringent social distancing protocols. Beginning Monday, indoor capacity for entertainment venues, gyms and fitness centers was cut to 25 percent. And Marion County health officials said they would need to approve any events that plan to host more than 50 people.

Still, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett seemed hopeful that they would be able to host the full tournament this spring.

“We are confident that, thanks to the collaboration of our city’s civic organizations and the strength of our hospitality industry, Indianapolis can rise to this challenge,” Hogsett wrote on Twitter.

“We know this change impacts others around the country, but we believe Indiana is uniquely positioned to host such a one-of-a-kind tournament,” Holcomb said in a statement emailed to The New York Times. “And do it safely.”

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