With coronavirus cases spiking throughout the country, confining the event to one location gives the NCAA the best chance to safely complete the tournament without disruption. Indianapolis is the home of NCAA headquarters and multiple basketball venues.
This plan to limit travel and keep athletes in a controlled environment somewhat resembles the bubble setups that allowed professional leagues, such as the NBA, to successfully return to play. The NCAA still plans to hold the tournament in March and April.
“My committee colleagues and I did not come lightly to the difficult decision to relocate the preliminary rounds of the 2021 tournament, as we understand the disappointment 13 communities will feel to miss out on being part of March Madness next year,” Mitch Barnhart, the chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and the University of Kentucky’s athletic director, said in a statement.
“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 committee and staff deeply appreciate the efforts of all the host institutions and conferences, and we look forward to bringing the tournament back to the impacted sites in future years.”
The NCAA has not yet announced plans for adjusting this season’s women’s basketball tournament.
The 2020 men’s tournament was canceled in March just after the virus had begun spreading across the country. Sports in the United States halted as most conference tournaments for basketball were just beginning.
The cities that were scheduled to host the preliminary rounds of the 2021 men’s tournament include Dayton, Ohio — which would have held the first-four round — as well as eight sites for first- and second-round games — Boise, Idaho; Dallas; Detroit; Providence, R.I.; Lexington, Ky.; Raleigh, N.C.; San Jose; and Wichita. The four regionals were set to be held in Denver, Minneapolis, New York and Memphis. The Final Four was already scheduled to take place in Indianapolis.
The college football season has dealt with numerous disruptions this season because of coronavirus cases within programs. Fifteen FBS games were canceled or postponed last weekend.
“We have learned so much from monitoring other successful sporting events in the last several months, and it became clear it’s not feasible to manage this complex championship in so many different states with the challenges presented by the pandemic,” Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said in a statement. “However, we are developing a solid plan to present a safe, responsible and fantastic March Madness tournament unlike any other we’ve experienced.”
The Ivy League, which was the first league to cancel its conference tournament in the spring, announced last week that its schools will not compete in winter sports, including basketball. It is the first Division I conference to decide against playing winter sports.
As the college basketball season approaches its Nov. 25 start date, dozens of programs have paused practice because of coronavirus cases. Some schools have already postponed or canceled early-season games. Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo and Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim recently tested positive for the virus.
Some early-season tournaments have been scrapped or relocated. The Maui Invitational will take place in Asheville, N.C. Some of the teams that had planned to participate in a tournament in the Bahamas will instead play in South Dakota.
Once the season begins, postponements and cancellations are likely to become a constant challenge for college basketball the same way numerous college football programs have had to adjust their schedules in recent weeks. But now basketball at least has a plan for the season’s conclusion, and the NCAA will hope to make it to that point without too many disruptions.
Read more on college sports: