The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has confirmed that the entirety of this year’s March Madness basketball championship will be played in the state of Indiana, with the city of Indianapolis to stage the majority of games.

The NCAA first detailed the plans back in November and a tentative schedule has now been finalised. The decision to stage the showpiece event in one location is designed to enhance the safety of the tournament amid the ongoing difficulties posed by COVID-19.

Selection Sunday is scheduled for March 4 and the NCAA plans on staging the Final Four on April 3 and 4, with exact preliminary-round dates to be determined. Indianapolis had already been pencilled in to stage the Final Four.

Under the new plans, games will be played on two courts inside Lucas Oil Stadium, home of NFL American football team the Indianapolis Colts. Further games will be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers NBA team, as well as Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Mackey Arena and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

The Indiana Convention Center will be used as a practice facility, with multiple courts to be set up inside the venue. Most of the tournament teams will be housed in Marriott properties, which will be connected to the convention centre via skywalks and within a controlled environment.

The NCAA is partnering with a local health provider to administer COVID-19 testing within the controlled environment for players, coaching staffs, administrators and officials.

The NCAA said it would continue to work with local officials to determine the feasibility of having fans attend games at any of the venues. A limited number of family members of each participating team’s athletes and coaches will be permitted to attend.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said: “This is a historic moment for NCAA members and the state of Indiana. We have worked tirelessly to reimagine a tournament structure that maintains our unique championship opportunity for college athletes. The reality of today’s announcement was possible thanks to the tremendous leadership of our membership, local authorities and staff.”

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice-president of basketball, added: “The 2021 version of March Madness will be one to remember, if for no other reason than the uniqueness of the event.

“With the direction of the Men’s Basketball Committee, we are making the most of the circumstances the global pandemic has presented. We’re fortunate to have neighbours and partners in Indianapolis and surrounding communities who not only love the game of basketball as much as anyone else in the country but have a storied history when it comes to staging major sporting events.

“This is going to be complicated and difficult; there’s no question about that. We appreciate the collaboration among the Men’s Basketball Committee and staff, our hosts and local organisers, the staffs at each practice and competition venue, and our broadcast and corporate partners. We will all pull together and stage a terrific national championship.”

The NCAA is also working with the city and the state to promote ‘Mask Madness’, an initiative to promote health and safety by practicing social distancing and wearing a mask. Through the programme, the NCAA will donate thousands of masks throughout Indiana leading up to the tournament.

The NCAA was forced to cancel last year’s March Madness due to COVID-19.

Image: tpsdave