INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — The 2021 edition of March Madness is now in the books, after crowning a champion and hosting 68 college basketball teams in the Indianapolis bubble to control their movements and exposure.
The NCAA on Tuesday shared some of the details in how it hosted the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament to keep players, staff and fans safe from COVID-19.
“Congrats to all of them for their incredible success on the court and off,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball. “We know during this pandemic, the challenges of testing of social distancing, risk mitigation and discipline that it took to be successful on the court and winning but stay safe off the court. Just remarkable.”
The organization also expressed gratitude to state and city leaders for their support to pull off the three-week-long sporting event. Earlier rounds of the tourney were played in Bloomington and West Lafayette.
“We are deeply appreciative for the entire community and how we’re able to come together to show how great Indianapolis is this business community, this civic community and do it in a way that hopefully gives hope to all of us that we are maybe coming out of this pandemic finally,” said Gavitt.
With reduced capacity rules in place, Gavitt says about 174,000 fans were able to see 66 games in person, which is 26% of the number of fans who watched the games in 2019.
The maximum capacity at Lucas Oil Stadium was set at 8,300 fans. Gavitt says fan attendance during the Final Four on Saturday was approximately 8,100, while Monday night’s attendance for the championship game was about 7,900.
Gavitt says IU Health conducted more than 28,000 COVID tests on players and essential team staff during the run of the tournament. Of that, Gavitt says only 15 came back positive.
“I think that’s a positivity rate of 1/20th of 1%,” added Gavitt. “In the bubble, clearly, I think there was a considerable success with risk mitigation and testing took place and we are very confident we’re sending teams home very safely and negative.”
The NCAA says it was a logistical challenge to safely house the teams, provide meals, and transport the players for practices and games.
“I think the staff had real anxiety about the very first week of the tournament, having all 68 teams together in four hotels, using the convention center as the hub of practices, and team meetings at all,” said Gavitt.
Gavitt was asked if he thinks the NCAA will consider a single-city tournament in the future.
“I don’t know that a 68 team, single site, short of another pandemic would be something that we have great interest in. But once you get down to a fewer number of teams, Sweet 16 and on, having teams in the same location may provide some opportunities,” said Gavitt.
Gavitt says the NCAA has already awarded preliminary round tournament sites for the D1 men’s basketball championship through 2026.
In January, the NCAA announced plans to move the entire tournament to Indiana, giving the state and communities just three months to prepare. Gavitt says the city’s ability to respond to the challenge bodes well for Indianapolis.
“I think (there’s) incredible opportunity in the future here for NCAA championships, for other NCAA sponsored activities and events that we know can work so well on this convention center and surrounding facilities,” said Gavitt. “So, I think we’ll only probably bring more NCAA championships to Indianapolis.”
During a separate news conference, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the tournament is proof the city can responsibly host major events, despite the healthcare crisis.
“We continue to make that effort … to make sure the NCAA March Madness tournament is a starting point for Indianapolis really coming back, conventions returning, the hospitality industry back in swing, and I look forward to the months ahead,” said Hogsett. “Now, having said all we have to get vaccinated; we have to get more people more shots in arms.”