The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has detailed plans to stage the entirety of next year’s March Madness basketball tournament in Indianapolis to enhance the safety of the event amid the ongoing difficulties posed by COVID-19.

The NCAA announced yesterday (Monday) that it is in preliminary talks with the State of Indiana and the city of Indianapolis to potentially host the 68-team tournament around the metropolitan area during March and April.

Indianapolis was already pencilled in to host the men’s Final Four from April 3-5 but the new proposals would see the entire tournament take place in the city.

The NCAA has been considering plans to deliver the event in the safest way and has decided that conducting the championship at 13 preliminary round sites across the US would be “very difficult to execute” due to the pandemic.

“My committee colleagues and I did not come lightly to the difficult decision to relocate the preliminary rounds of the 2021 tournament, as we understand the disappointment 13 communities will feel to miss out on being part of March Madness next year,” said Mitch Barnhart, chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and University of Kentucky athletics director.

“With the University of Kentucky slated to host first- and second-round games in March, this is something that directly impacts our school and community, so we certainly share in their regret. The committee and staff deeply appreciate the efforts of all the host institutions and conferences, and we look forward to bringing the tournament back to the impacted sites in future years.”

The Division I Men’s Basketball Committee has prioritised staging March Madness in a “manageable” geographic area to limit travel for teams and provide a safe and controlled environment with competition and practice venues, medical resources and lodging for teams and officials within close proximity.

The NBA, WNBA and NHL recently concluded their seasons with similar ‘bubble’ set-ups and Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice-president of basketball, said the organisation studied how other sports have dealt with the impact of the pandemic when coming to its own decision.

“We have learned so much from monitoring other successful sporting events in the last several months, and it became clear it’s not feasible to manage this complex championship in so many different states with the challenges presented by the pandemic,” Gavitt said. “However, we are developing a solid plan to present a safe, responsible and fantastic March Madness tournament unlike any other we’ve experienced.”

Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts NFL team, will host the Final Four tournament. Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers NBA team, could be used to stage games if the NCAA finalises plans to stage the entire tournament in the city.

The NCAA was forced to cancel this year’s March Madness due to the pandemic.

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