The NCAA announced that it will hold the entire 2021 Division I men’s basketball championship in Indiana. So far, Fort Wayne will still be getting the Division III men's championship game. However, how much economic impact the games will have isn't known, because so much is still hanging on the rim as the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the nation.

Indianapolis, where the National Collegiate Athletic Association is based, will get the lion's share of the Division I's 67 games, the NCAA announced Jan. 4. Selection Sunday is still scheduled for March 14, when all the brackets will be announced for the 32 automatic qualifiers and the 36 at-large selection. Plans remain to have the Final Four on April 3 and 5, according to the NCAA.

“Indiana is a basketball state, and we’re beyond excited to safely host the 2021 NCAA men’s Division I, II and III basketball championships here," Gov. Eric J. Holcomb announced after news was released by the NCAA. "Games will take place around the state – from Evansville to Indianapolis and from West Lafayette to Fort Wayne. With our deep commitment to public health, strong infrastructure and historic facilities, I have no doubt that this year’s tournaments will be among the best we’ve ever seen.”

Last March the NCAA canceled all tournament games — including the Division III men’s basketball semifinals and a Division I women’s basketball Midwest regional that were to be held in Fort Wayne. That resulted in $1 million in unrealized economic impact.

"The NCAA still has plans to hold their D-III Men’s Basketball Championship planned for Fort Wayne for March 19-20," according to Dan O’Connell, president/CEO of Visit Fort Wayne. "They have reserved the Memorial Coliseum for the semi-finals and finals."

While Division I has the big-name and big-size schools, including Gonzaga, Iowa and Florida State, Division III includes the small schools of Rensselaer, Swarthmore and Tufts.

O'Connell couldn't give an economic impact estimate on the Division III game coming to Fort Wayne. There are just too many unknowns.

Among the questions he listed:

"How many people can attend? Who — just the participating schools or the general public? Should we even encourage attendance if the coronavirus is not under control? How does the (Memorial Coliseum) handle social distancing, testing and screening? What if the rules change yet again? And who enforces masks wearing?"

The Division I women's regional won't be returning to Fort Wayne this year, he said.

The NCAA said it is still assessing how many fans, with the exception of a limited number of family members of student-athletes and coaches, can attend the Division I games.

According to the NCAA, it "is partnering with a local health provider to administer COVID-19 testing within the controlled environment for players, coaching staffs, administrators and officials. The Marion County Health Department (in Indianapolis) has approved medical protocols shared by the NCAA and will continue collaborating with the NCAA leading up to and during the championship."

According to the NCAA's plans, "All teams will be housed on dedicated hotel floors, with physically distanced meeting and dining rooms, as well as secure transportation to and from competition venues."

As a tie-in to the Division I tournament, known as March Madness, it is promoting "Mask Madness, an initiative to promote health and safety by practicing social distancing and wearing a mask. As part of this program, the NCAA will donate thousands of masks throughout the state leading up to the tournament."

In 2018, the NCAA held Division I games among the final 16 teams in places that included Boston and Los Angeles, with the Villanova Wildcats' 79-62 defeat of the Michigan Wolverines taking place in San Antonio.

Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis last hosted opening round games of the tournament in 2017 and Lucas Oil Stadium hosted the Final Four in 2015.

The NCAA gives Division I schools millions of dollars, some for student aid, after it takes in hefty TV contracts for sports, including football. With last year's March Madness canceled, and with it the loss of TV contracts that amounted to $933 million in 2018, according to published reports, NCAA gave Division I schools $375 million less than than the $600 million it had planned to grant.

O'Connell estimated in the fall that cancellations due to COVID-19 resulted in a $267 million loss in tourism to Allen County from March to August. No updated figure was available. Some recurring events, including the Fort Wayne Farm Show and the Fort Wayne Home & Garden Show are booked for the coliseum in March and April, respectively, which are dates later than usual. On Jan. 5, the Fort Wayne Komets hockey team, which has its home ice at the coliseum, announced its season will start in February.
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