How will the 2021 NCAA tournament work? What we know and don’t know about March Madness

In a move anticipated since November, the NCAA on Monday formalized plans to hold the entire 2021 men’s basketball tournament in Indianapolis. Details are still forthcoming, but here’s what is currently known about the implications for the move, including the schedule for the event, venues, and health and safety protocols. ESPN reporters Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Myron Medcalf examined the details of the announcement.

What are the dates for the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball tournament? Are these in line with what the planned dates were?

As of now, the NCAA tournament is expected to announce the field on the originally scheduled date and is planning to have the Final Four on the originally scheduled dates. In between, nothing has been determined. There are questions on how long it will take for teams to travel to Indianapolis, get tested and quarantine before playing their first game. But Selection Sunday is still scheduled for March 14 and the Final Four is still planned for April 3 and 5. That’s all we really know for now. — Jeff Borzello

Has the NCAA committed to a number of teams for the 2021 NCAA tournament?

There’s been no sign the NCAA wants to reduce the field from 68 teams. And in Monday’s announcement, the NCAA specifically referenced 67 games — meaning the plan is still to play the tournament with 68 teams. — Borzello

The NCAA announced Monday that Indianapolis and the surrounding area will be the single destination for the tournament. What venues are expected to be used in and around Indy?

Six venues will host games. Lucas Oil Stadium has two courts, but only one game at a time will be played there. Bankers Life Fieldhouse (home of the NBA Indiana Pacers), Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler), Indiana Farmers Coliseum (IUPUI), Mackey Arena (Purdue) and Assembly Hall (Indiana) are the other five venues that will host games. The Indiana Convention Center will be used as a practice facility. — Borzello

When was the last time any of these on-campus venues hosted an NCAA tournament game?

Assembly Hall hosted games in 1981. while Mackey Arena did so in 1980. — John Gasaway

Will there be an impact on the selection criteria for the 2021 tournament, compared to previous NCAA tourneys?

The process leading into Selection Sunday may end up looking more “normal” than expected. The NCAA released its initial NET rankings for 2020-21 shortly before it announced the format for the 2021 NCAA tournament. With the notable exception of 1-1 Colgate (ranked No. 16), enough games have now been played for the ratings to look pretty solid: Gonzaga, Baylor, Tennessee, Illinois and Villanova make up the top five. While there will likely be sound bites from the committee about this being a “different” year, the overall bracket could look surprisingly similar to what we’ve seen in past years. — Gasaway

Will the NCAA have to consider replacement teams in the event that an outbreak forces a team out of the event? How will that work?

On Monday, David Worlock, spokesman for the men’s NCAA tournament, said details about possible replacement teams and procedures for handling positive tests are “still being discussed.”

NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt mentioned this as a possibility last summer but has not revealed any details related to the concept since then. What we know is that the NCAA is planning to keep Selection Sunday and the Final Four on their originally scheduled dates. But it has not announced any decisions on procedures if a player, staffer, coach, official or anyone else receives a positive test. Will there be a forfeit? Will games get rescheduled? The latter seems difficult to imagine since the NCAA seems to be committed to the current timeline.

Nothing official has been announced either way, but it would seem logical that choosing replacement teams is a good insurance plan for tournament officials, especially in the early rounds. For The Basketball Tournament, the first basketball event staged in the pandemic, the bulk of the replacement teams on standby were employed before the event had even started. — Myron Medcalf

What health and safety guidelines are the event expected to utilize?

The Marion County Health Department approved the medical protocols shared by the NCAA. According to Monday’s announcement, the NCAA is partnering with a local health provider to administer COVID-19 testing for players, coaching staffs, administrators and officials.

As far as logistics, the NCAA’s partnership with Marriott properties will play a role here. Marriott is expected to house most of the tournament teams, and those properties are connected to the Indiana Convention Center (where teams will practice) via skywalks. The NCAA said Monday that all teams will be housed on “dedicated hotel floors” and will travel via “secure transportation” from the hotel to the venues. — Borzello

What concerns are there about a single-destination event?

Most of the coaches I’ve spoken to about the single-destination NCAA tournament are just happy to have an NCAA tournament. The sport as a whole was devastated last year that it was canceled. It’s the biggest tournament in sports. And while traveling to different sites with arenas filled with fans is obviously the more ideal option, this is the safer option. Everyone realizes the sport can’t afford to have a second straight NCAA tournament canceled — not only as a reward for the players, but given the billions in revenue that the event earns, for the future health of the NCAA. — Borzello

Is there an expectation that fans will be allowed in the stands for any of these games?

There haven’t been any final decisions made on non-family member fans just yet. From Monday’s announcement: “The NCAA is closely monitoring the ongoing pandemic and will continue to work with local officials to determine the feasibility of having fans attend games at any of the venues, though a limited number of family members of each participating team’s student-athletes and coaches will be permitted to attend their team’s games.” The NCAA makes most of its money from the NCAA tournament’s television contract, so making sure the tournament happens is higher on the priority list than fans attending. — Borzello

Is the NCAA women’s tournament expected to follow the same single-destination approach as the men?

The NCAA announced in December it was in discussions with San Antonio to serve as the single-destination host for the women’s NCAA tournament. They’re still planning to play the tournament with 64 teams and on a similar timeframe to past NCAA tournaments. Incarnate Word, Texas-San Antonio and the San Antonio Spurs would serve as the hosts for the 2021 Final Four. — Borzello

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