Just under a year ago, COVID-19 swept in and erased one of the largest sporting events in the country, NCAA’s March Madness. The cancellation of the 2020 NCAA tournament arguably was the first domino to fall in COVID-19’s impact on American sports. Fast-forward to February 2021, and the NCAA is preparing for a tournament under unprecedented circumstances.
Due to the continued safety and logistical challenges of the pandemic, the tournament will begin on March 18, 2021, with the entirety of the tournament being played in Indiana. This marks the first time in the tournament’s 82 year history in which one state host the entire tournament. Further, on February 19, the NCAA announced up to 25% capacity will be allowed for all tournament rounds. Now, this on its face, is a little deceiving. The 25% capacity include both participating teams plus coaches, essential staff, up to six family members of each participating team’s athletes and a reduced number of fans.
Athletes also must endure strict COVID-19 protocols in order to participate. Prior to arriving, athletes must have receive 7 consecutive negative tests. Failing to do so will force athletes into self-isolation before being allowed into the tournament. Once athletes arrive to the tournament, they must again test negative on two consecutive days to be allowed to further participate.
Family of the athletes are not spared from COVID-19 protocols either. Although athletes may invite 6 family members, family may not be in physical, in-person contact with the athlete for the duration of the tournament. Additionally, these family members will be grouped together in “clusters” and will be required to wear masks while in attendance of tournament games.
Clearly, the NCAA is not taking health and safety very lightly, although it is still a gamble to be hosting the tournament amid the pandemic. However, as the number of cases drop and the vaccine distribution numbers increase, the NCAA tournament returning in 2021 gives Americans another thing to be excited for as we inch closer and closer to normalcy.