Last year, Spokane was set to host the first two rounds of the NCAA West regional for the first time since 2014.
This year, it’s looking like Gonzaga men’s basketball and all other schools that make the NCAA tournament will be playing solely in Indiana, as the NCAA is working on creating a controlled environment centered around the Indianapolis area for this year’s March Madness.
This unique idea for the NCAA men’s national basketball championship tournament was announced by the NCAA Jan. 4, but has been in the works since last summer. The plan for this year’s tournament is to put all 68 tournament teams in Indianapolis where the NCAA can regulate team operations, administer frequent testing and distribute amenities to each team.
The teams will be staying at Marriott hotels where they will each have their own floor, their own meeting room, share a socially distant dining hall and get secure transportation to and from the auxiliary facilities. The tournament is being hosted by Butler University, Ball State, Purdue, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the Horizon league. These schools and leagues will be offering their facilities, staff and services to assist in the tournament’s operations.
“We’re fortunate to have neighbors 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,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, during the NCAA’s announcement.
“This is going to be complicated and difficult; there’s no question about that," Gavitt said. "We appreciate the collaboration among the Men’s Basketball Committee and staff, our hosts and local organizers, the staffs at each practice and competition venue.”
The games in Indianapolis will be played in Bankers Life Stadium, Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum and Lucas Oil Stadium where two courts are going to be set up inside the Colts home stadium, although only one court will host a game at a time. Indiana University’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington and Purdue’s Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, located 53 miles and 66 miles away from Indianapolis respectively, will also host some tournament games.
The prospects of fans attending any of these games is unknown at the moment and will be assessed closer to March as the COVID-19 situation develops. The Marion County Health department, which the NCAA has been coordinating with since last summer to ensure that the health and safety procedures are functional, reported that Marion County currently has almost 81,000 cases and averages over 600 new positive tests every day.
Regardless of the climate of the pandemic by March, the tournament will proceed as scheduled with Selection Sunday coming March 14. Last year, the cancellation of the NCAA men’s national basketball championship cost the NCAA just under a billion dollars of net revenue.
According to the Washington Post, the NCAA tournament is responsible every year for bringing in over $800 million of the NCAA’s total $1.1 Billion annual revenue. Other than the BCS Championship which supports itself, every NCAA sanctioned sports championship at all three levels of divisional play is in some way supported by the revenue generated from the Division I men’s basketball tournament.
“The NCAA is doing a really good job of trying to make it as special as they can, but all the while ensuring that we have it because we need to have it,” said Gonzaga men’s basketball Head Coach, Mark Few. “Like I’ve said before, whether it’s Division I, Division II or Division III, any sport out there, any championship you like to go to, if you like baseball, if you like hockey, if you like volleyball and women’s basketball, the men’s NCAA tournament needs to happen because it supports them all, all of them.”
Along with fellow NCAA championships, the success of March Madness supports the NCAA’s ability to fund its 1,200 member schools through disbursements, grant programs, structure scholarships and determine eligibility.
The success of the men’s basketball tournament or lack thereof is consequential for the vitality of many athletic programs and universities as well. The NCAA’s annual distribution to schools was previously around $600 million, but the Indystar reported that the pandemic cut the school funding budget to $225 million.
“[The NCAA tournament] doesn’t supplement all of these sports, it pays for them and that’s just the reality,” said GU’s Director of Athletics, Mike Roth. “There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s great that we’re able to do that and it’s why it’s so important that we play this year, but at the same time we have to ensure that the health of safety of the student athletes, the coaching staff and the participants are being met.”
The disbursement money given to each school is determined by many factors including performance by specifically a school’s men’s basketball team in the tournament. GU’s successes in March from 2015 to 2019 alone awarded the university and the West Coast Conference almost $32 million.
Few said that after the Zags’ time in Indianapolis earlier in the season when they played West Virginia, Gavitt talked to the players about where they thought the NCAA could make adjustments for March to make the experience more enjoyable.
The NCAA has prior experience structuring events similar to what they’re planning to do with the controlled environment.
Every year’s Final Four is wired to accommodate amenities for teams’ players, coaches and families. The NCAA has also been learning about how to handle a controlled environment from the multiple smaller events the association has put on throughout this season.
“Having it in Indianapolis will help because [the NCAA is] right there with it, and I have no concerns at all because they’ve been doing it for years around the Final Four,” Roth said. “Now it’s just instead of one week, it’s over three weeks so from that standpoint there’s not a better group to do that than the NCAA and Indianapolis. I think it’s going to be a pretty seamless process.”