While the college football season has been turned on its head, with the recent announcement that the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences will postpone things to a possible spring season, the NCAA is confident that it will be able to host the 2021 NCAA Tournament next March. The 2020 edition of March Madness was canceled, as the outbreak of COVID-19 coincided with the conference tournaments days before Selection Sunday.
In college football, the conferences have a lot of autonomy to make their own schedules and decisions, independent of the NCAA. The organization also does not run the championship for that sport. The NCAA Tournament for men’s basketball is its biggest annual event.
While there is rarely much faith in the NCAA to execute on major things like this, it does do a good job at hosting March Madness every year. In a recent interview with Andy Katz, vice president Dan Gavitt expressed serious optimism for the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Right now, he said the organization is planning to have the games played as scheduled, but that the organization is already working to stay flexible and have contingencies in place, should there be further disruptions or factors that prevent any normal part of the process.
“We have preached flexibility and patience to our coaches and administrators,” Gavitt said on the call. “We’re going to exercise that ourselves as well when it comes to the tournament. Our first and primary goal and preference is to have the tournament on the dates that are set at the venues that are predetermined, but if the virus necessitates a different path, we will adjust accordingly. And I think it’s really important for fans who watch this video, and coaches and administrators, that there are all sorts of contingencies that are going to be in place.”
“We will absolutely do all we can do – whatever assets, whatever resources, whatever it takes – to try & give our young people the chance to play the game they love.”
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) August 12, 2020
From there, Gavitt made a pretty declarative statement: he said the 2021 NCAA Tournament is going to happen. He says that the current plan is to have things go off at the existing sites as scheduled, but the organization is set to move if need be. He wasn’t willing to disclose what some of those contingencies are at this time.
“We are going to have a tournament. It’s going to be special. We have our preferences about how we’d like to have it be, but if we have to adjust to the virus, which we don’t control, we will adjust accordingly. The health and safety of the players and the coaches and all the people around the games—the referees and fans—will be primary. But ultimately it will also include determining a national champion in the fairest and most equitable way that we can under these unusual circumstances.
“I think it’s important to note, we’re gonna have all sorts of contingencies and plans if it’s necessitated. We’re just not in the position to be able to talk about those in the middle of August, because that’s not what our primary goal is. But at the appropriate time in place, if we have to adjust, we will. We’ll be flexible, we’ll be nimble, and we’ll deliver what the country is desperately looking for again, and that’s an incredible March Madness tournament in 2021.”
For the 2021 NCAA Tournament, the First Four games are scheduled to be played in Dayton, Ohio as usual. The first weekend sites are Boise, Dallas, Detroit, Providence, Lexington, Raleigh, San Jose, and Wichita. Denver, Minneapolis, Brooklyn, and Memphis host the Regionals, while Indianapolis will host the 2021 Final Four.
Of all of the college sporting events, the NCAA Tournament may be the easiest to insert into some sort of bubble situation and move forward similar to the NBA’s Orlando restart that is currently underway. The regular season, necessary to choose the 68 teams participating, may be another story. Hopefully all of the decision makers involved see what a mess college football has been, and are coming up with solutions, because the scheduled November start to college basketball isn’t that far away. Hopefully having some centralized leadership here, even coming from Mark Emmert and company, will help March Madness return for 2021.