Here’s what Indianapolis’ NCAA tournament 'bubble' will look like
The entire NCAA tournament wil be held in Indianapolis this spring.
But how is that possible? A normal field of 68 teams generally plays 67 games at sites all across the country in a matter of weeks.
The 2021 Final Four was already slated to be played in Indianapolis.
Condensing the product to one location seems absurd at first glance, but NCAA officials have been working with the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana to pull off an NCAA tournament 'bubble' since the 2020 tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt won't go as far as calling the effort a bubble, but refers to the effort as a highly controlled basketball environment.
Here's what that basketball environment will look like:
NCAA tournament 2021 protocols
On Jan. 26, CBS Sports' Matt Norlander obtained a letter the NCAA sent to some major conferences with updated protocols for the upcoming tournament. They include when and how teams will arrive in Indianapolis.
► Per Norlander's reporting, all tournament teams within 350 miles of Indianapolis will be required to travel by charter bus, and traveling parties, which are capped at 34 people, will split up into three busses to provide for social distancing.
For teams flying, private airports (and private planes) will be used. No eating or drinking while traveling is allowed. Members of traveling parties need seven-straight negative tests to be able to leave for Indianapolis, per Norlander.
► Teams who won their conference's automatic bid will arrive in Indianapolis on Saturday, March 13. Per Norlander, "all 31 auto bids will arrive in Indy Saturday or Sunday. Late Sunday and all-day-Monday departures will be reserved for the 37 at-large teams."
► Teams qualifying for the tournament will be sequestered for the duration of their stay. Locations include the participants' hotel room floor, and assigned meeting and practice areas within the hotel or the Indiana Convention Center.
► Indiana Sports Corp President Ryan Vaughn expects approximately 2,500 hotel rooms to be used for players, coaches, officials and support staff. Plans currently expect a full field of 68 teams to participate.
Per CBS Sports, every person will have their own hotel room and teams "will only be allowed to eat in designated rooms at their hotels for the entirety of their stay in Indy."
The NCAA will use Marriott hotel properties connected to the Indiana Convention Center.
Locations will be closely monitored throughout the tournament. Access to these areas will be limited to "Tier 1" participants which include athletes, coaches and support staff. Again, no team can exceed 34 "Tier 1" participants.
► COVID-19 testing will be in place for all participants. Diamond Health, Inc and Vivature, Inc. have been selected as the COVID-19 testing provider for the NCAA tournament. Diamond/Vivature will manage all facets of the testing process including pre-registration, authentication of previous negative tests, team scheduling, administration of on-site tests, and contact tracing.
► All public safety guidelines and infrastructure will be provided by the city of Indianapolis. The state of Indiana will be charged with ensuring a safe and responsible tournament. Local entities such as Indiana Sports Corp and Visit Indy will work closely with the NCAA to handle day-to-day operations as teams practice or move to playing facilities.
On game days, facilities will be cleaned between matchups. This may require fewer games to be played at any single venue on any given day, according to Gavitt.
► No bands will be allowed through at least the Elite Eight, Norlander reported.
NCAA tournament 2021 dates
Gavitt said the tournament schedule will look similar but not exactly the same. The schedule is tentatively slated as follows:
March 18: First Four (games at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall and Mackey Arena)
March 19/20: First Round (games at all six venues)
March 21/22: Second Round (games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Indiana Farmers Coliseum)
March 27/28: Sweet 16 (games at Hinlke Fieldhouse and Bankers Life Fieldhouse)
March 29/30: Elite Eight (games at Lucas Oil Stadium)
April 3: Final Four (games at Lucas Oil Stadium)
April 5: National championship game (at Lucas Oil Stadium)
While Selection Sunday and the Final Four dates are set in stone, Gavitt explained the remaining dates would remain fluid. Scheduling may be adjusted based on the safe use of facilities and the proper testing protocols being in place.
NCAA tournament 2021 sites
All games will played in centralized gymnasiums around the Indianapolis area. Those six venues are:
- Lucas Oil Stadium, 500 S. Capitol Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46225.
- Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 125 S. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis, IN 46204.
- Hinkle Fieldhouse, 510 W. 49th St., Indianapolis, IN 46208.
- Indiana Farmers Coliseum, 1202 E. 38th St., Indianapolis, IN 46205.
- Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, 1001 E. 17th St. Bloomington, IN, 47408.
- Mackey Arena, 900 John R. Wooden Dr., West Lafayette, IN 47907.
Teams providing their facilities for the tournaments such as Butler, IU and Purdue will not be allowed to play "home games" should the respective teams make the tournament.
The IU and Purdue gymnasiums will host First Four and first-round games only. Lucas Oil Stadium will provide two courts, but games will not be played on both courts at the same time.
The remainder of the games will be held at the four Indianapolis locations, culminating in the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium.
NCAA tournament 2021 tickets
Game attendance is currently limited to family members of athletes and coaches of NCAA tournament participants, according to Gavitt.
Marion County health officials and the NCAA are working determine what the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic looks like. The two sides will decide if and how many fans might be allowed to purchase tickets for each venue.
Gavitt expects a final decision to come by the end of January or February at the latest.
NCAA tournament 2021 masks
The state of Indiana and the NCAA are partnering for a program called, “Mask Madness.”
Hundreds of thousands March Madness-branded cloth face masks will be provided to Indiana residents ahead of the tournament at various Indianapolis-area sites.
Mayors in various host cities across the state are expected to distribute the masks.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said allocation of the masks has yet to be determined for the Mask Madness program.
Chris Sims is a digital sports producer at IndyStar. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisFSims.