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March Madness 2021 will happen, NCAA says — maybe in Indianapolis

"The committee has decided the championship should be held in a single geographic area to enhance the safety and well-being of the event," the NCAA said.
Image: Purdue v Virginia
The Virginia Cavaliers raise the trophy after defeating the Purdue Boilermakers 80-75 in overtime of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional to advance to the Final Four at KFC YUM! Center in Louisville, Kentucky on March 30, 2019.Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images file

The NCAA on Monday pledged that its popular post-season men's basketball tournament would be staged in 2021 — with all games played in one place, possibly the state of Indiana.

The competition known as March Madness is normally staged at 13 arenas across America: not including the play-in games in Dayton, Ohio, there are normally eight sites for the first- and second-round contest, four for third- and fourth-round play and then a single venue for the national semifinals and final.

But because of the nation's struggle to control the spread of coronavirus, "it became apparent to the committee that conducting the championship at 13 preliminary round sites spread throughout the country would be very difficult to execute in the current pandemic environment," according to an NCAA statement.

"The committee has decided the championship should be held in a single geographic area to enhance the safety and well-being of the event."

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Mitch Barnhart, chairman of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and the athletic director at the University of Kentucky, said the NCAA studied other sports that have held playoffs during the pandemic before coming to the conclusion that a normal March Madness wouldn't be possible in 2021.

“Through the pandemic it was unreasonable to expect that,” Barnhart said. "Getting to one geographic location gave us the best opportunity to do that for the safety and health of the participants, officials, all of the workers."

Because Covid-19 policy varies from city to state to national standards, Dan Gavitt, the NCAA's senior vice president of basketball, said tournament organizers thought it was best to deal with fewer government agencies.

"Trying to run an event of 68 teams, 67 games over three weeks in a safe and a responsible way really needed to be managed in a much more controlled, singular environment," Gavitt said.

The NCAA said it's in talks with the state of Indiana and city of Indianapolis to find enough courts to host all games of the 68-team tournament.

The Final Four had already been set to be staged at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, on April 3 and 5.

Potential Indianapolis sites could include Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the downtown home of the NBA's Indiana Pacers; the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, home of the Jaguars of Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis; and Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the Butler University Bulldogs play their home games.

Hinkle Fieldhouse is best known as the site where the championship game scenes from the 1986 sports classic "Hoosiers" was filmed.

NCAA headquarters are in Indianapolis.

Barnhart said he felt badly for the 2021 March Madness regional sites that are losing out; hosting venues are allocated years in advance.

The 2021 tournament had been set to play first- and second-round games in Providence, Boise, Detroit, Dallas, Wichita, Lexington, Raleigh and San Jose. The third and fourth rounds had been set for Minneapolis, Denver, Memphis and Brooklyn.

"That hurts," Barnhart said. UK's own Rupp Arena was set for opening weekend play. "People put hard work into these bids. They've done diligent work in preparing the cities, and we understand that the investment they made is significant in time and sweat equity."

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Covid-19 took hold of America in early March, just days ahead of the NCAA Tournament. Its cancellation was one of the first major developments of the pandemic, which is still dominating American life.

The Ivy League, which sends its champion to March Madness every year, announced last week that it won't field intercollegiate basketball teams for the 2020-21 season, out of concern of Covid-19.

Monday's announcement concerns only the men's Division I tournament. The fate of six other post-season competitions under NCAA control - men's Division II and III, the three levels of women's basketball and the National Invitation Tournament - have not been determined yet, an NCAA spokesman said Monday night.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), an alliance of small colleges not affiliated with the NCAA, already plays a bulk of its postseason basketball in one place.

The final 16 NAIA men's teams are still on schedule to meet in March 18-23 in Kansas City, Missouri, an association spokesman said Monday. The 16 best women's teams are set to meet, March 18-23 in Sioux City, Iowa.