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NCAA tinkers with March Madness schedule, giving you another day to fill out your bracket

The NCAA tournament will have a different schedule this year. (David J. Phillip/AP)
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A few weeks after announcing that this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament would be held entirely in the Indianapolis area, the NCAA on Tuesday revealed the schedule for this year’s tournament will be different from years past.

After Selection Sunday on March 14, the First Four games — featuring the teams seeded Nos. 65-68 as well as the last four teams to receive at-large berths — will take place Thursday, March 18. Customarily, the First Four games are played the Tuesday and Wednesday after Selection Sunday at the University of Dayton. This year, those games will be played at Mackey Arena, on Purdue’s campus in West Lafayette, Ind., and Assembly Hall, home of the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington.

First-round games this year will take place March 19-20, moving to Friday and Saturday instead of their customary Thursday-Friday schedule. Those games will be held at the two First Four venues along with Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The second round will be played Sunday, March 21, and Monday, March 22, instead of on a Saturday and Sunday. The Sweet 16 will be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, March 27, and Sunday, March 28, and each game will get its own television window, unlike in previous years when some games overlapped.

Region final games will be played Monday, March 29, and Tuesday, March 30. Four days later, the national semifinalists will play the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium, with the national title game to follow two days later at the same arena and on the same night of the week as usual (a Monday).

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“The 2021 March Madness schedule is primarily a function of the health and safety protocols for all participants, respecting conference tournaments, balancing time away from campus for college student-athletes, competitive considerations for a national championship and fan engagement during a relatively traditional tournament timetable,” Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said in a statement. “We are most appreciative of CBS Sports and Turner Sports for their collaboration and support of the tournament.”

Lucas Oil Stadium will feature two courts, though only one game will be played at a time. Teams will practice on multiple courts installed at the Indiana Convention Center.

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The NCAA has partnered with a local health provider to administer on-site coronavirus tests. Most of the teams will stay at hotels that are connected to the convention center via skywalks, with each team housed on a dedicated floor. It’s not yet known whether fans will be allowed to attend games, though a “limited number” of players’ and coaches’ family members will be admitted to the venues.

Last month, the NCAA said this year’s entire women’s basketball tournament would be held in one location, probably the San Antonio area.

Indianapolis has hosted the men’s Final Four seven times and was scheduled to do so again this season. The 12 other planned sites for the earlier rounds of this year’s tournament will be given a chance to host again in later years, the NCAA said.

Last season’s NCAA basketball tournaments were canceled because of the pandemic, which was just beginning in the United States at the time. This season, hundreds of college basketball games have been postponed or canceled as teams continue to be affected by the virus.

“The 2021 version of March Madness will be one to remember, if for no other reason than the uniqueness of the event,” Gavitt said earlier this month. “With the direction of the men’s basketball committee, we are making the most of the circumstances the global pandemic has presented. We’re fortunate to have neighbors and partners in Indianapolis and surrounding communities who not only love the game of basketball as much as anyone else in the country but have a storied history when it comes to staging major sporting events.

“This is going to be complicated and difficult; there’s no question about that. We appreciate the collaboration among the men’s basketball committee and staff, our hosts and local organizers, the staffs at each practice and competition venue, and our broadcast and corporate partners. We will all pull together and stage a terrific national championship.”

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