March Madness is back, but it will be different in these 5 ways

Photo by Streeter Lecka (Getty Images)

First of all, let’s cheer wildly and be thankful.

There actually WILL be an NCAA Tournament this year, so get those office pools ready and those days off to watch games all lined up.

It’s a stark contrast to this time last year, when the tournament was canceled for the first time ever, just a week before the brackets were set to be announced, due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic is still having an effect on this year’s tournament, however.

While the brackets have been announced and games are set to take place, it will be a different viewing experience than normal.

Here are the ways this year’s tournament will be different.

1. A different schedule means Monday is part of the first week of games.

Usually, the 68-team tournament starts on the Tuesday after Selection Sunday, with the first four “play-in” games taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the second round, which is actually the first set of games for the other 60 teams that qualified, being held Thursday and Friday.

The third-round matchups are typically on Saturday and Sunday, with the winners of those games advancing to the Sweet 16 round.

It’s common for people to take those Thursday and Fridays off work, or at the very least, take extended lunch breaks, to watch the second-round games that highlight a glorious four-day stretch of basketball viewing that lasts through Sunday night.

However, due to testing protocols, each of the play-in games this year will happen on Thursday.

That means the second-round games will be on Friday and Saturday, and third-round games Sunday and Monday.

In other words, Friday and Monday are the days for people to request off work this year, not Thursday and Friday.

Sweet 16 games will now be held on the weekend of March 27-28, and Elite Eight games will be on March 28 and 29, a Monday and Tuesday.

Usually, Sweet 16 games are held on Thursdays and Fridays, and Elite Eight games on Saturdays and Sundays.

2. A centralized location

Even though West, East, Midwest and South region brackets were announced, don’t let that fool you. There aren’t going to be games spread all across the country this year. To help with protocols and the risk of spreading the virus, the NCAA is holding every game in the state of Indiana this year, with four of the sites being in Indianapolis.

The other two are at Indiana University and Purdue University.

Lucas Oil Stadium, a football venue that is hosting the Final Four, will have two separate courts where games will take place.

3. A rigid schedule, heavily monitored activity for participants.

The Indianapolis area is certainly going to be busy trying to pull the tournament off with the pandemic still lurking.

There will be four designated hotels to house teams, which will leave them with scheduled times through predetermined hallways and skyways to secure transportation, according to Forbes.

The Indiana Convention Center will have 12 full practice courts, a meeting room for every team and six weight rooms.

Staff will have to lead teams through movements with stop and go flags, so players don’t mix with each other.

The load will lessen as teams get eliminated, but for the first week, it might be chaos.

4. Limited fans, no cheerleaders or band.

Having no or limited fans and no band or cheerleaders is something teams have gotten used to during the regular season. However, part of the charm and ambience of tournament games are the band playing the fight song, cheerleaders shouting out encouragement and fans going wild. The best that can be done this year will be having a 25% capacity of fans. The bands and cheerleaders will have to root for their teams from home, like everyone else.

5. Replacement teams were on standby until Tuesday deadline.

Teams such as Virginia, Kansas and Duke had to pull out of their conference tournaments due to positive COVID tests. If that would have happened to a qualifying team before 6 p.m. on Tuesday, a replacement team would have filled the spot.

If a team that won its conference tournament championship was the only team from its league in the field, but had to pull out, the team that lost in that conference title game would have been selected as the replacement.

For example, in a hypothetical scenario, if Cleveland State had to withdraw from the tournament, the team it beat in the Horizon League tournament final, Oakland University, would have taken its place. If it was an at-large team that had to pull out, Louisville headed the list of replacements as the first team left out of the field. Behind Louisville on the replacement list was Colorado State, Saint Louis and Ole Miss.

But the deadline passed on Tuesday and none of the replacement teams were contacted after five positive tests had been found out of 2,300 that were conducted, according to CBS Sports. The NCAA said those positive tests might not have been players or coaches, but members of teams’ traveling parties, working staff and committee members.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.