Is the 2021 NCAA March Madness Men’s Basketball Tournament Still On?

Over the course of the last year, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has upended the world of basketball in a huge way. The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus before eventually resuming play in the Orlando bubble. Meanwhile, the NCAA ultimately made the tough decision to cancel the 2020 March Madness tournament.

That marked the first time in the history of the league that the NCAA Tournament was not held. Now, a full year later, fans are wondering what to expect for the 2021 tournament. The good news is that March Madness will resume this year, if in a somewhat altered format. Here we break down what to expect in terms of changes from the tournament’s usual style.

Where is the tournament?

On January 11, the NCAA announced that they would indeed be holding the 2021 men’s basketball championship. They also revealed that the entire tournament would be playing out in Indiana, with most of the games taking place in Indianapolis. In essence, the NCAA is taking a cue from the “bubble” format used by the NBA in last season’s playoffs.

According to IndyStar, there will be six venues used to host the tournament’s games:

  • Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
  • Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
  • Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis IN
  • Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Indianapolis, IN
  • Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Bloomington, IN
  • Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, IN

As you can see, two of those locations fall outside of Indianapolis. One is about an hour and twenty minutes south, in Bloomington, Indiana. The other is a little over an hour northwest, in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Ideally, the NCAA would have liked to conduct all games in Indianapolis. However, there simply weren’t enough regulation-sized basketball courts to host all of the games.

What are the dates for March Madness 2021?

According to the NCAA, the tournament itself will kick off on Thursday, March 18, with the First Four. These four games traditionally fall on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of the tournament. But because of the pandemic, this year all four games will take place on Thursday. The First Four consists of eight teams at the bottom of the seeding brackets.

Following the First Four, the rest of the NCAA Tournament proceeds as follows, per the NCAA:

  • First round — Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 20
  • Second round — Sunday, March 21 and Monday, March 22
  • Sweet 16 — Saturday, March 27 and Sunday, March 28
  • Elite Eight — Monday, March 29 and Tuesday, March 30
  • Final Four — Saturday, April 3
  • NCAA Championship game — Monday, April 5

Coronavirus changes

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As you can imagine, the NCAA Tournament is having to do a number of things differently to account for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For one thing, they have changed the way the seeding will be handled.

Because the entire tournament will take place in Indiana, geography will not be factored into the ranking system. Instead, the NCAA will use a method known as the S-curve.

The NCAA is also instituting strict coronavirus protocols for all teams. To begin with, according to USA Today, every member of a team’s travel party must test negative for seven consecutive days before heading to Indiana. During teams’ stay in Indiana, members of the travel party must complete daily PCR tests to ensure they remain coronavirus-free.

Likewise, players must wear a device known as a SafeTag. These relatively small, lightweight items assist in contact tracing, should anyone test positive for the coronavirus. Teams will remain eligible to play in the tournament provided at least five of their players are healthy at all times. If a team cannot play, they will be replaced in the bracket according to NCAA contingency protocols.