The Big Ten’s move follows the NCAA’s decision to hold its tournament entirely in the Indianapolis area, a departure from the typical format that stages games at sites around the country. The Big Ten tournament ends with its final on Selection Sunday, just a few days before the NCAA tournament’s opening round March 18, which gives qualifying teams the option to stay in the Indianapolis area rather than return to their campuses.
NCAA tournament games will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse and Indiana Farmers Coliseum, as well as Purdue’s Mackey Arena in West Lafayette and Indiana’s Assembly Hall in Bloomington. Both of those campuses are about an hour’s drive from Indianapolis.
Organizers hope that confining the tournament to one location will limit the risk of contracting and spreading the coronavirus, which could derail a team’s postseason hopes. The NCAA tournament ends with the Final Four on April 3 and the national title game on April 5. The 2020 tournament was canceled because of the pandemic, and the NCAA decided early on that it would hold this year’s edition in one region.
Indianapolis is part of the usual rotation for the Big Ten’s tournaments. Since the event’s inception in 1998, the Big Ten tournament has been held in Chicago or Indianapolis in all but two years. Chicago will host the tournament in 2023, and Indianapolis will still hold the event as planned next year. Last season’s tournament in Indianapolis was canceled after the first day of games because of the pandemic.
The Big Ten women’s tournament was already scheduled to be held in Indianapolis from March 9-13 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Big Ten’s decision to move the men’s tournament was made by the conference’s administrators council, which includes the athletic directors and senior women administrators from all 14 schools, and in collaboration with university presidents and chancellors.
Some coaches have questioned the value of staging conference tournaments this season. Automatic bids for the champions give every team a path to the NCAA tournament, but for teams that feel assured of a spot, the conference event could be viewed as a risk. If players contract the virus the week before the NCAA tournament, there presumably wouldn’t be enough time for them to isolate, recover and return to play. All players and staff must show seven consecutive negative coronavirus tests before arriving in Indianapolis for the NCAA tournament.
So far during Big Ten play, 17 men’s games have been postponed. Four of those have been made up, and another two have rescheduled dates set. Nebraska recently missed five straight games because of coronavirus cases in its program. Michigan paused all sports Jan. 23 following a mandate from the state health department to curb the spread of a more transmissible variant of the virus. During that stretch, the No. 3 Wolverines will miss five games, including one rescheduled matchup that was previously postponed. Michigan is set to return to play Sunday at Wisconsin.
The Big Ten’s effort to finish the regular season with 140 games — 20 for each team — is becoming increasingly challenging. If teams play an uneven number of games, seeding for the conference tournament and determining a regular season champion would be more complicated than usual.
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