Candidates for the 2021 NCAA Tournament have been presented with a schedule of protocols designed to facilitate their entry into what is being termed a “controlled environment” for this year’s edition of March Madness in the Indianapolis area that presumes major conferences will be staging their league championship tournaments as scheduled.
“We strongly encourage teams who have a high probability of being an At-Large team to stay in their conference championship city until Sunday, March 14,” reads one point in the document obtained by Sporting News.
“NCAA staff will be in touch with your men’s basketball administrator directly on logistics of airline departures from conference championships for both Automatic Qualifiers and At-Large teams.”
Coaches from several major conferences have begun to openly discuss whether it is prudent to stage league championship tournaments given the NCAA requirement, spelled out in this 2021 Men’s Basketball Championship Planning guide, that all 34 members of the official traveling party for each team “must produce seven consecutive daily negative COVID-19 tests” starting March 6. At least one of those seven tests must be of the PCR variety.
If a member of the party tests positive during that sequence, then the person will be under the supervision of the public health officials in that locale and unable to travel to Indianapolis until isolation or quarantine is complete.
The tournament will begin March 18 with the First Four, followed by the first round March 19 and 20. The Final Four is scheduled for April 3 and 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
For teams reasonably certain they will be making it to March Madness, competing in conference tournaments has become a concern.
“I do believe there will be some teams that opt out of conference tournaments knowing they’re a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament,” Louisville’s Chris Mack told reporters recently.
“I would consider it. It probably wouldn’t be my decision alone. That’d be a hell of a choice.”
The NCAA has completely bought out the Hyatt, JW Marriott, Marriott and Westin hotels in downtown Indianapolis to establish what NCAA vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt explained would not be considered a true “bubble” — but that obviously is designed to minimize the possibility of contact with outside parties.
All individuals in each team group will be assigned a single room and are being instructed to welcome no guests. In Indianapolis, the official travel party must move to and from game and practice venues only on official NCAA buses. They must eat meals inside the team hotel, either in their own rooms or in physically distanced meal rooms.
Teams that qualify automatically from league championships contested prior to March 13 — in a typical year, this is the overwhelming majority of mid- and low-major leagues — will be scheduled to travel to Indianapolis on that Saturday. Those league champions that qualify by early evening on that day will be scheduled to travel soon after the conclusion of their conference finals. Those that finish late Saturday or the following day will travel on Selection Sunday, March 14, along with those chosen as at-large entrants.
There are guidelines for bus travel, for those coming from 350 miles away or fewer, that sketch out how passenger seating should be arranged, mandate masks and face shields and forbid eating or drinking while in transit. The teams will be assigned three buses each for their 34-person groups.
Those traveling by charter aircraft will use only private airports, and only the 34 in the party will be allowed aboard. As with the buses, masks will be required — N95 masks are encouraged — but face shields are only suggested. And there will be no mid-flight meals.