How the NCAA Hopes to Pull Off March Madness Amid Covid-19

[See our complete guide to March Madness.]

For the NCAA, the easy part – putting a bracket and crowning Baylor, Gonzaga, Illinois, and Michigan as the number 1 for the Division I men’s basketball tournament starting this week – ended Sunday night. Now the association is facing a week-long test of its choice to play its signature event during the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision to draw 68 teams from across the country to a tournament in Indiana will have a huge impact on college sports. A successful men’s tournament as well as a smooth women’s tournament in Texas would improve the morale and finances of an industry that the pandemic has left in a precarious position. The NCAA lost nearly $ 56 million in the last fiscal year, largely because the 2020 men’s tournament didn’t play.

If the competitions aggravate or stumble the public health crisis significantly, college sports officials, already under trial on Capitol Hill and in court, will be subject to an audit to see if they valued money more than safety.

“It’s going to be complicated and difficult,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, this winter. “This is not a question.”

The men’s bracket may have failed, but it won’t freeze until 6 p.m. East Coast time Tuesday – an indication of the possibility that the virus will dash one team’s hopes and give another a chance to play for a championship.

The rules vary depending on an affected team’s home conference.

If a team plays in a league in which only one team is participating in the tournament, the conference can elect its replacement. The new team takes over the position in the bracket of the team that replaced it.

If a team is from a league that has received multiple tournament bids, four teams – Louisville, Colorado State, St. Louis, and Mississippi – are waiting to replace them in the same spot.

Once the Tuesday deadline has passed, no new teams will be included in the brackets for the men’s or women’s tournaments. (The selection for the 64-man-women tournament will be announced on Monday evening.) If a team does not have at least “five eligible healthy players to start a game,” as Gavitt put it last week, the game will be classified as No. -Contest move the opponent to the next round.

The warm-up games for the men’s tournament are planned for Thursday. The 64 round should begin on Friday. The women’s tournament is supposed to start on Sunday.

The NCAA’s plan provides choke points to limit the risks of the pandemic for players and coaches. However, the association’s strategy doesn’t include all of the constraints the NBA put in place over the past year to end their season and playoffs in their so-called Florida bubble.

It is expected that more than 2,300 people on the tour groups of the 68 teams in the tournament field – players, coaches, coaches and the like – will come to Indiana for the men’s tournament. However, referees, NCAA staff, security, housekeeping, journalists, relatives and fans will also be in attendance to keep the venues up to 25 percent of their usual capacity.

The spectators are largely excluded from the first and second round of the women’s tournament, which is played in Texas. As of the round of 16 of this tournament, no more than 11,000 spectators are expected at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

The most protected participants in the tournaments, including players and coaches, must be in what the NCAA calls a “controlled environment”. Others, even those who may be near the courtyard, will not face such boundaries, although they will have to wear masks and try to stay six feet from people.

To reduce travel expenses, most of the men’s tournament games are played in Indianapolis, where games are played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, and Lucas Oil Stadium. Teams will also play at the Mackey Arena on the Purdue University campus in West Lafayette, Indiana, and the Assembly Hall at Indiana University in Bloomington.

For the women’s tournament, the teams play at three locations in San Antonio: in the Alamodome, in the Bill Greehey Arena of St. Mary’s University and in the Convocation Center of the University of Texas in San Antonio. Texas State University will host round one games at the University Events Center in San Marcos, as will the Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

The tournament organizers have divided the people who will be in and around the games into four levels, and the testing requirements vary for each level.

Referees and members of the teams’ travel groups must test negative for seven days before traveling to Indiana and Texas. Until they exit the tournaments, they will undergo daily tests paid for by the NCAA. The exercises can only be performed two days after a team arrives. Participants are asked to stay in their hotel rooms until these initial tests give negative results.

Individuals who may have “regular interactions” with top-level surveillance participants must test negative within two days of their arrival and will be tested every day.

Another group of people who work on the tournaments will be tested twice a week after an initial negative result. Spectators and journalists do not have to pass a test protocol to participate in games.

With a few exceptions, masks are mandatory.

Top-class teams in every sport often refer to game trips as business trips. While postseason travel usually includes at least a little pre-game fun – think the traditional Prime Rib festival for Rose Bowl teams – teams competing in this year’s tournaments are rarely at Indianapolis City Market or on the river Walk in San Antonio.

For the men’s tournament, the teams stay in hotels that are connected via skywalks to the Indiana Convention Center, where the exercises take place. The teams will have their own floors in the hotels, and organizers said there would be meeting rooms and dining areas to keep social distance.

For the women’s tournament in Texas, according to the NCAA, entire hotels will be reserved for people who are tested for the virus every day, including players, coaches and game officers.

According to official information, nobody in this rung is allowed to leave the exclusion zone at both tournaments. Although monitoring devices are used during team activities to facilitate contact tracing, they are not needed at other times, e.g. B. when players are in their hotel rooms.

The men’s basketball tournament is the NCAA’s main breadwinner, and the association’s decision to cancel the 2020 event cost more than $ 800 million.

Although insurers paid $ 270 million because the association had a sweeping event cancellation policy – guidelines that will apply to the 2021 contest – the NCAA’s total revenue for its fiscal year fell by about $ 600 million. The NCAA had planned to distribute $ 600 million to its Division I leagues last year, but ended up paying out less than half of that.

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