Last March, the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament was canceled for the first time since its inception in 1939 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With COVID remaining a prevalent factor in sports scheduling, and the NCAA faced with a second consecutive year of potential revenue losses in the millions, the organization’s leadership put a plan in place they hope will prevent games from being forfeited and ultimately achieve a successful ending to what is widely known as March Madness.
Instead of multiple venues spread out across the country, the 82nd edition of the tournament, which begins today, will take place at sites solely in the state of Indiana, concluding with the championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on April 5th. The entirety of the women’s tournament will be held in San Antonio beginning this weekend.
This is the first time in the history of the tournament that one state will host all of the games. Each of the venues will operate at a maximum of 25% capacity, which includes fans, staff and players.
Each participating college and university will be allowed to have a maximum of 34 people in their traveling party. A school that enters the tournament with less than 34 can add members at a later date provided they meet the established protocols.
Six referees have already been replaced before a single game has been played. On the court, 26-0 Gonzaga, who opened the season ranked No.1 and never relinquished the spot, expectedly enters the tournament as top overall seed. The Bulldogs, who lost 71-65 to North Carolina in the 2017 title game, are seeking to become the first undefeated champion since Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers team went 32-0.
The other No. 1 seeds are Illinois, Baylor and Michigan. Noticeably absent from the tournament is five-time champion Duke led by its Hall of Fame head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Duke initially announced they would not be continuing postseason play due to the team having positive COVID cases, which caused them to drop out of the ACC tournament after a 70-56 win over Louisville last Wednesday.
However, days later the program reversed course and announced they would play if selected. It came as no surprise to those that follow college basketball the 14-11 Blue Devils, who had a below average season by their high standards, was not offered an at-large invitation.