The NCAA announced Monday it plans to conduct the entire 2021 men's basketball tournament in a single geographic area to mitigate the risks of COVID-19. It is in talks with Indianapolis to serve as the host city.
Instead of all those upsets, buzzer beaters and star-turning performances being spread out at venues across the country, the bracket will be played out at sites in one city, a sort of one-stop shopping version of the sprawling tournament typically played in every region of the U.S.
The news comes nine months after the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 tournaments, a severe economic blow not just to the host cities, but scores of athletic departments across the country.
“It will be a very controlled environment,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball. “It'll be different, it'll be historic and it'll be hopefully something we all treasure and experience just once, hopefully not ever again.”
There was no immediate word on the women's tournament, which runs concurrently.
The original plan was for the 67 games of the 2021 NCAA Tournament to be played at 13 sites across the country, starting with the First Four in Dayton. Regional sites were set for Minneapolis, Denver, New York City and Memphis, Tennessee.
As COVID-19 cases across the country spiked and wreaked havoc on the college football season, it became clear to the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee that multiple sites would not work.
“We coalesced around a decision that we were not going to be able to host the tournament through 13 different sites,” said Mitch Barnhart, Kentucky athletic director and committee chair. “Through the pandemic, it was unreasonable to expect that.”
Centralizing the tournament will allow a controlled environment with venues, practice facilities, lodging and medical resources all near one another. Indianapolis, the only city the NCAA is negotiating with, made the most sense since the Final Four was already scheduled there for April and NCAA headquarters is walkable from various sites.
The NCAA set a Nov. 25 start date for the season as it tries to bounce back after the cancellation of the 2020 tournament led to a $375 million shortfall in revenue distributed to member institutions.
Gavitt said there is no plan to change the start date, and the NCAA Tournament is expected to be played in March and April as scheduled. No determination has been made on whether fans will be allowed.
“The committee has made a really sound decision here, disappointing as it is to go away from our valued hosts for 13 different sites from First Four through the regionals,” Gavitt said. “Condensing this to one geographic area that we can do it in a more safe and responsible way is where we need to be.”
It might be awhile before the women's basketball committee decides what it wants to do with the tournament. Since 2015, the first two rounds have been played on home campuses of the top 16 seeds.
Those aren't known until Selection Monday, so there are no predetermined sites.
The women's Final Four next March is set for San Antonio and the regionals are supposed to be played in Albany, New York; Austin, Texas; Cincinnati; and Spokane, Washington.
“Because of the ongoing pandemic, the committee recognizes that the tournament may have a different feel,” said Lynn Holzman, NCAA vice president of women's basketball. “The committee intends to maintain a field of 64 teams and a variety contingency plans – including reducing the number of first- and second-round sites or bringing the entire tournament to one location – are being considered.”
No. 12 Miami had its remaining three games postponed Monday because of COVID-19 cases in the program, forcing the Atlantic Coast Conference to reschedule a total of six games over the last month of the season.
Georgia Tech at Miami, scheduled for Saturday, is now tentatively set for Dec. 19, the date of the ACC championship game. Miami's game at Wake Forest that was scheduled for Nov. 28 was moved to Dec. 5, and its game against North Carolina was moved back a week to Dec. 12.
Georgia Tech, which had its game last week against Pittsburgh postponed because of COVID-19 issues with both teams, joins No. 5 Texas A&M and Arizona State as teams that will now go two weeks without playing.
The number of games across major college football scheduled for this weekend that have already been called off is up to seven after four went down Monday, including Mississippi at Texas A&M and Charlotte at No. 15 Marshall.
The Aggies will be idle for a second consecutive week after missing last weekend's visit to Tennessee.
The Southeastern Conference, which has had eight games postponed this season, said the Texas A&M-Ole Miss game could be made up Dec. 19, the day of the league championship game and a week after the Aggies play the makeup against the Volunteers.
Among the other games put off this week is Arizona State at Colorado in the Pac-12. Like the Aggies, the Sun Devils will not have a game for a second straight week.
The Pac-12's abbreviated seven-week schedule, including a championship game on Dec. 18, has no room for makeup dates.
Last week, 15 FBS games were called off because of COVID-19, the most yet this season as the total since late August is now almost 70. The Mid-American Conference announced its first cancellation, Ohio at Miami (Ohio) scheduled for tonight.