The last time an NCAA Tournament was played, the University of Virginia Cavaliers cut down the net in Minneapolis to celebrate its first men’s basketball championship. That was in 2019. Fast forward to 2021, where organizers are making sure 2020’s busted brackets stay a thing of the past.
Thepandemic created some of its own March madness last year when it forced the tournament to be canceled for the first time in its 82-year history.
But the arena lights are back on this Thursday and organizers with the NCAA Tournament have taken unprecedented steps to ensure the tournament is pandemic proof.
Sixty-eight teams earn a spot in the tournament every year. This year, to play, all teams and traveling parties must test negative for seven straight days before “the big dance” begins.
The rule has affected one powerhouse team: Duke University. On Thursday, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that the Blue Devils are out of the tournament due to one of their staff members testing positive for the coronavirus. This ended Duke’s impressive streak of 24 consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
Dana O’Neil, a senior writer covering college basketball for The Athletic, told “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Dana Jacobson that this tournament will look and feel completely different.
“Yeah, your movement is pretty limited and they did say that, you know, once the first weekend is over and you’ve gone from 68 teams to 16, it gets a little bit better,” O’Neil said. “But there’s not, ‘Go for a walk outside on the canal and enjoy walking around Indy.’ That’s just not a thing, they are not allowed. They don’t want coaches even to go for a jog.”
Teams will be assigned their own floors at hotels and even their elevator trips will be coordinated.
“But to get from your hotel floor down to the lobby to go wherever you have to go, they are literally calling the elevators up. So, ‘Hey Baylor, it’s your turn to go to practice,'” O’Neil said.
In past years, venues were selected to host the tournament games nationwide. All of this year’s games will be held across six sites in Indiana, including four within the city of Indianapolis. The final four and national championship will be played in Lucas Oil Stadium. The city has hosted significant events in the past, which O’Neil said makes it easier to plan this year’s unprecedented tournament.
“Indianapolis is set up as a convention city and, as such, everything downtown from the hotel to the Convention Center to even Lucas Oil Stadium are attached by skywalks,” she said.” So you don’t even have to go outside, which helps in this circumstance get players from A to B to C to D, so they can get from the hotel to a practice.”
A limited number of spectators will be allowed into each venue, but they’ll have to leave between games to allow staff to clean the arenas.
Spectators will have places to go in the meantime. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced that the city would loosen restrictions on bars and restaurants, allowing them to remain open until 2 a.m.
But campus watch parties will have to be held strictly outside and crowd sizes will be limited and capped. Millions of Americans are expected to watch the games from inside their living rooms.