The college basketball season hasn’t even tipped off, but big changes are coming to the NCAA Tournament, one of the premier events on the sports calendar.
The NCAA announced Monday it plans to move the entire 68-team tournament to a single geographic area. The organization is in negotiations with Indianapolis, which was already scheduled to host the Final Four in April.
The move was necessary to “enhance the safety and well-being of the event” while minimizing risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA said.
The decision wasn’t a shock to many college coaches and administrators. Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth mentioned months ago there was a possibility of consolidating the number of early round sites or one city potentially hosting at least two weeks of the three-week tourney in a controlled environment.
“Not surprised at all by the single site,” Roth said. “It is exactly what I have been expecting. I’m not troubled by it at all – anything we can do to reduce risks and provide the highest level of safety and still get the tournament played.”
The NCAA said conducting the tournament at 13 preliminary round sites “would be very difficult to execute” during the pandemic. Boise and San Jose were host cities for the opening weekend with Denver scheduled to host the West Regional.
The NCAA has made it clear it will make major moves to ensure the 2021 tournament happens after the 2020 event was canceled in response to the pandemic. The Zags were projected as a No. 1 seed and expected to play in Spokane for the first weekend.
The NCAA monitored the bubbles that helped the NBA and WNBA complete their seasons in Florida. The NCAA probably can’t recreate a bubble with the NBA’s stringent rules in Orlando, but the organization vowed to develop a plan to conduct a safe tournament .
NCAA headquarters are in Indianapolis, which seemingly has the hotel and arena/stadium capacity necessary to conduct 67 games within the metro area. Indianapolis is the home of Final Four site Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the NFL Colts), Bankers Life Fieldhouse (home of the NBA Pacers), Butler’s famed Hinkle Fieldhouse and IUPUI’s Farmers Coliseum, and there is a possibility of multiple courts at the Indiana Convention Center.
Other potential venues include homecourts of Purdue, Indiana, Indiana State and Ball State – all within a 75-minute drive.
Teams that make the Final Four likely would spend at least a month at one location.
There are numerous logistical issues that need to be finalized, but staging the tournament in one metro area should reduce the risk of virus transmission.
NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt reiterated that the season will begin as scheduled on Nov. 25. Gonzaga is scheduled to face Kansas on Nov. 26 and Auburn on Nov. 27 in Fort Myers, Florida.
With COVID-19 cases rising nationally and about 20 programs shut down due to virus issues, Iona coach Rick Pitino and a few media members that cover college basketball have proposed delaying the start of the season and eliminating non-conference games.
“I really hope it would not come to that (conference-only schedules) as the student-athletes are ready to go now, but we just saw (college) football take a step back this weekend with 25% of the games canceled,” Roth said. “Each day will be watched carefully by all of us.”
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