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USA TODAY

For the first time since its inception in 1939, the entirety of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament – better known by its nickname “March Madness” – will play out in a single region, Indianapolis and central Indiana, amid COVID-19 safety protocols and a limited number of fans. Indianapolis, already slated to host the 2021 Final Four, picked up the full tournament in January.

Normally spread out at regional sites across the USA, the single-elimination tournament will bring 68 teams to central Indiana to vie for a shot at a national title. The planning to contain the tournament to one area began last year after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 tournament. Keeping the tournament in a single area allows the NCAA to centralize game venues, practice and meeting rooms, hotels and medical support.

Indiana will host the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament, with most of the 67 games happening in Indianapolis.
Illustration by Stephen J. Beard/USA TODAY

Where will they play?

In all, six venues will host the tournament’s 67 games: Mackey Arena at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall at Indiana University in Bloomington, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium. Lucas Oil Stadium will have two courts set up, but games will not play concurrently.

Lucas Oil Stadium, sole site of the tournament after the Sweet Sixteen, is connected via climate-controlled walkways to the Indiana Convention Center and a constellation of downtown hotels with more than 4,700 rooms (the NCAA needed roughly 2,500 rooms for athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, officials and staff). The convention center will house practice courts, training areas and meeting rooms for qualifying teams.

How will the tournament format look?

First, don’t worry: That familiar bracket format we’ve come to know and love will remain intact (even if your bracket predictions do not). Because there aren’t four geographic regions to consider this year, the NCAA will determine who plays where – called seeding – using a model called the “S curve” that plays more to a team’s overall strength than its location. The bracket pairings were announced March 14 on Selection Sunday. Here’s a list of the dates and locations of the tournament rounds:

BRACKET TIPS? AT YOUR SERVICE: 

Safety protocols

Though not as stringent as the NBA bubble in Orlando last summer, safety measures for what the NCAA calls “Tier 1” participants – all players, coaches and staff – will be closely monitored. Here’s a general look at what participating teams can expect:

What about the fans?

The NCAA announced in mid-February that it would allow a limited number of fans to attend the tournament. After coordinating with state and local health authorities, the tournament will allow up to 25% capacity with physical distancing. The capacity will include all athletes, coaches, staff, family members of participating teams’ athletes and coaches and a limited number of fans.

“While we know it won’t be the same for anyone, we are looking forward to providing a memorable experience for the student-athletes, coaches and fans at a once-in-a-lifetime tournament,” Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, said in a statement. “After the cancellation of the 2020 tournament, we are happy to welcome some fans back to all rounds of the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

SOURCE NCAA; VisitIndy; and USA TODAY and IndyStar reporting.

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